It’s June 13, 2016 – the day after the shocking mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida where one disturbed person (a born and bred US citizen) armed with a handgun and an assault rifle took the lives of, as I write this, 50 people and wounded 53. It’s also two days after the very public murder – also in Orlando – of former The Voice contestant, Christine Grimmie, during an autograph-signing session following a concert performance.
More senseless violence. More pain. More questions. The Pulse massacre, which targeted members of the LGBT community during Pride month, has been labelled the worst mass-shooting in US history. It is unfathomable.
I’m in shock. You’re in shock. The whole world is in shock. Once again, hatred has taken centre-stage.
What makes this tragedy even more shocking is that this is the 133rd mass shooting in the USA this year so far (1).
Take a moment to process that. 164 days into the year and there have been 133 mass shootings in America. To say that mass shootings are becoming a daily event doesn’t seem too far off the mark, does it?
Just on Friday the Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, appeared on Chelsea Handler’s Netflix talk show Chelsea, during which a discussion ensued about gun control. The statistics that Newsom shared (2) are staggering:
- There are an estimated 310 million guns in the United States of America, making it the nation with the highest per capita rate of gun ownership in the world
- 100,000 people are injured by gun violence in America every year, resulting in the annual deaths of over 30,000 people
- More pre-schoolers were killed by guns in 2015 than police officers in the line of duty
- An average of 88-90 people die each day from gun violence
- There were 330 mass shootings in America in 2015
- At the time of taping, there had been 126 mass shootings so far this year – 26 of which were at schools, which averages as one school shooting every two weeks
- There are no licensing requirements anywhere in the United States on the sale of ammunition, one of the three key ingredients for gun crime (along with the gun itself and a lunatic to operate it – my words, not Newsom’s)
These numbers are utterly mind-blowing. When I see these numbers, I can’t help but be shocked. Because each number represents a human life, ended prematurely and with terrible violence. Each number represents a person with hopes, dreams and aspirations that have been extinguished too soon. Each number represents someone’s partner, someone’s child, someone’s parent, someone’s sibling, someone’s friend, someone’s loved one.
Each number represents someone who is no more.
Do you ever ask yourself why this is allowed to continue? And if you don’t want it to continue, then why don’t you do something about it?
As an Australian, I’m fortunate to live in a country where there are tight gun controls. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have gun crime – we do – yet it is infrequent. And it’s not as if we don’t have guns at all – we do. We just have fewer of them; 21.7 guns per 100 people compared with 112.6 guns per 100 people in America (3). Crucially, we have extremely tight restrictions on the sale and ownership of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, a subject I’ll return to in a minute.
Many of our tight controls were put in place following our own worst-ever mass shooting, the Port Arthur massacre of 1996, when 35 people lost their lives – since then, we have (fortunately) not had a mass shooting in our country (4). We have, however, had our own brushes with terrorism in Australia – front of mind is the Lindt café siege in Sydney in December 2014, where a lone gunman took 10 customers and eight employees hostage and murdered one of them, before he and a hostage were killed by police fire (5). These examples serve as reminders that, despite of all the controls in the world, individuals with hate in their hearts will always find a way to inflict that hatred upon the world. Yet just because a small percentage of the population will actively look for ways to inflict terror and violence upon the innocent, that doesn’t mean you say “oh well!” and make it easy for them to access weapons.
The difference between our countries and rates of firearm-related homicides is stark. In 2013, the rate of homicides involving firearms in Australia was 0.16 per 100,000 people; compare that to 3.43 per 100,000 in America in 2014, and it’s clear that something’s not right (6). Even our intentional homicide rate in general is significantly lower than yours: 1.0 per 100,000 compared with America’s rate of 3.8 per 100,000 (7). That’s not to say that one country is better or worse than the other, it’s just different. There is no single answer to the homicide issue. The one thing I do note though is that when we have had tragedies in this country, politics tend to be put to the wayside and something gets done about attempting to prevent it from happening again. Gun controls were tightened after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre (4), and tougher laws relating to stolen and illegal firearms were brought in following the Sydney Lindt café siege of 2014 (8). Will these measures stop all future shootings? No. But they will make a difference in that they will make it more difficult to access weapons for the sole intent of murdering others.
Because that’s the thing about guns. Some people use them to kill people. It’s a fact. Proponents of gun possession will tell you, “guns don’t kill people – people kill people”. And they’re right. An awful lot of people use guns to kill other people every single day.
The American gun lobby continues to argue the need to protect every American’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms – a right which was built into your constitution when your forefathers feared retaliation by the British for their declaration of independence.
America: it is 2016. The British are not coming.
When tighter gun controls were introduced in Australia, the sky did not fall down. The world did not come to an end. The British didn’t invade. We survived. And, in fact, we thrived.
‘But what about all the criminals out there with guns? We need to protect ourselves from them!’ I hear you cry. Really? That argument is like saying that you need to infect yourself with HIV to protect yourself from HIV. Criminals have guns because your gun laws allow it, therefore you feel compelled to have a gun to protect yourself. Change the laws, reduce gun ownership and reduce the need for guns to protect yourself against everyone else who has a gun.
Regardless of your view on individual gun ownership, let’s at least acknowledge the elephant in the room when it comes to gun control: access to automatic or semi-automatic weapons. Really, America? Really? There is no single justifiable reason to own or carry an automatic or semi-automatic weapon. Not even for hunting. I mean, who are you hunting – kamikaze ninja rabbits armed with bazookas? It’s utter insanity.
Allowing easy access to automatic and semi-automatic weapons is like giving each member of the population a loaded syringe full of heroin – some will do nothing, some will harm themselves, and some will harm others. It is inevitable. Reduce guns, reduce incidences of guns being used to perpetrate violence. This isn’t rocket science.
Can we at least agree that access to automatic and semi-automatic weapons makes absolutely no sense? Can you at least do something about that part of the problem? Baby steps are better than no steps at all.
America, you need to take a long, hard look at yourself and ask, “Is this the country we want our children and our children’s children to inherit?” You need to be brave and make bold decisions in order to create real change because you really can’t go on the way you’re going. For a country that has so many wonderful aspects, you sure can be blind to the error of your ways.
As a member of the human race, I weep for those who have been lost to senseless violence around the world and I weep for the lack of common sense that continues to allow these tragic massacres to happen. I hope that, one day, things change. I hope that, one day, each American can look back with pride and the knowledge that they have saved lives by implementing tighter controls on guns. And I hope that one day is sooner rather than later.
For the sake of future generations let’s all hope that you, America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, can find the courage to challenge the status quo and take the steps needed to address this issue.
Yours in friendship,
(1) Vox, retrieved 13 June 2016 from http://www.vox.com/a/mass-shootings-calendar-june-2016; Gun Violence Archive, retrieved 13 June 2016 from http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting).
(2) Newsom, G. (Guest), & Handler, C. (Host). (2016). The Case for Cannabis with Wiz Khalifa [Television series episode]. In C. Handler & B. Wolff (Executive producers), Chelsea. Culver City, CA: Netflix.
(3) Wikipedia, retrieved 13 June 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_of_guns_per_capita_by_country
(4) Gizmodo, retrieved 13 June 2016 from http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2015/06/australia-hasnt-had-a-mass-shooting-since-1996/
(5) Wikipedia, retrieved 13 June 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Sydney_hostage_crisis
(6) Wikipedia, retrieved 13 June 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_firearm-related_death_rate
(7) Wikipedia, retrieved 13 June 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate
(8) ABC News, retrieved 13 June 2016 from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-28/mike-baird-announces-bail-and-illegal-firearms-reform/6732332