As a young Australian born in a nation with strict gun controls post-Port Arthur, Tileah Dobson finds it surreal that in ‘the land of the free’, people aren’t free to live without gun violence.
Australia is often credited with having the most dangerous animals in the world. And rightly so because some of the creatures here are the stuff of nightmares. But you know what a brown snake doesn’t do after biting you with its venom?
Honestly, I find the idea of facing ten cassowaries preferable to encountering one person with a loaded gun. And thankfully, I don’t have to consider the latter because I was born in post-gun law reform Australia.
It’s been 26 years since the mass shooting at Port Arthur left 35 dead and 24 injured. While there had been mass shootings in Australia before (here in Sydney, they included the Surry Hills massacre in 1990 and the Strathfield massacre of 1991), the Port Arthur massacre shocked the nation to its core. Politicians, advocacy groups and many others came together and said ‘no’ to the prospect of future mass shootings.
The newly minted prime minister at the time, John Howard, took a huge risk in his political career and his life. Twelve days after the massacre, he and his government implemented strict gun laws. But not everyone was happy. So strong was the feeling among some in the pro-gun lobby that Howard took to wearing bulletproof vests at public events.
While it wasn’t smooth sailing by any means, Howard and the government of the day did their duty in keeping Australians safe. The government bought back firearms from gun owners – more than a million were collected and destroyed, estimated to be a third of the national stock at the time.
And while guns still exist in Australia today, they are much harder to get than they used to be. When I asked my father what it was like living in Australia before the Port Arthur massacre, his reply made me relieved to be born since.
He told me that gun shops and ammunition shops were common bigger towns. While things weren’t as loose as they are in America, guns were still quite present. He also told me that my grandparents used to run a little shop in a district called Bessiebelle, Victoria. In the shop, they sold the usual items like snacks, drinks … and ammunition. He’s glad that his children grew up in a safer Australia and that all we had to worry about were heartbreaks, knee scrapes and second-hand embarrassment from his dad jokes.
He never had the fear of dropping us off at school and hoping we’d come back alive. We were taught fire safety drills instead of active shooter drills. He was more likely to get a call from the school about us passing out from the dreaded beep test than getting hit by a bullet.
He and my mum even went to America for a holiday pre-Covid and were shocked to see guns being sold in a Walmart.
And I think that’s why it’s so surreal for me to watch another shooting at a public school in the US. As I’m writing this, the death toll at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas has reached 21 – with authorities expecting it to rise in the coming days. And once again, the gun law debate has flared up, along with the obligatory ‘thoughts’ and ‘prayers’.
I personally know several US citizens who are continually frustrated by the lack of progress on gun laws in their country. They are sick of politicians who have blocked any gun reforms in Congress.
Today, US President Joe Biden said it was “time to turn this pain into action”.
One US Senator, Chris Murphy, literally begged his colleagues in Congress to pass legislation addressing the country’s gun violence problem.
“I’m here on this floor to beg, to literally get down on my hands and knees to beg my colleagues. Find a path forward here. Work with us to find a way to pass laws that make this less likely,” Murphy said.
And while many argue that it’s hard to fight against something that’s part of their Constitution and violates their ‘right’ to bear arms, I call BS. When the US Constitution was written, guns took more than a minute to reload.
If John Howard and his conservative government could take the huge political and life-threatening risk of implementing what is now seen as the gold standard of gun control in the world, the US Government can do the same.
America terrifies me and the huge gun violence issue is one of the biggest reasons why I don’t intend to ever visit the country.
While Australia isn’t perfect by any means, I’m beyond grateful that I was born into this country, where I’m free to go to university or the movies or wherever I please without the fear of someone running in with an AR-15 rifle and shooting the place up.
Tileah Dobson is the news editor and sub-editor of the Sydney Sentinel.
- Comedian Felicity Ward talks motherhood and mental health in new stand-up show
- Elvis: a Baz Luhrmann extravaganza
- Moby Dick, Lano and Woodley
- A grand welcome to the world from Sydney
- The Albanese government has committed to enshrining a First Nations Voice in the Constitution. What do Australians think of the idea?
- North Sydney was a cycle wasteland, then a war zone. Is that about to change?