It has been another week in America, and there has been another shooting. This time Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Four people are dead. Ironically, it comes about a week after the National Rifle Association told doctors to “stay in their lane” regarding gun control.
What terrifies me the most is that this seems normal to us. This happens so often that it begins to feel like just another part of our news cycle. In the past month, their have been shootings in yoga studios and synagogues.
We don’t have to live this way.
There is a lot we can do in society to discourage violent outbursts. Encouraging young men to be comfortable expressing emotions rather than turning their anger into murderous violence would be a great start. But in the meantime, because that’s going to take a while, let’s take away the guns.
Yeah, I know, you want a gun to kill a bear. Fine. Let’s take away the vast majority of the guns. Because we’re going to keep having mass shootings in America until we do something about America’s gun problem. And we can, because other countries have. As the Onion regularly—too regularly—has to point out, we are the only country where this regularly happens.
And we truly are. The gun homicide rate in the U.S. is 25 times higher than in every other high income nation. Out of all the high income countries—like Australia, Germany, and Canada—82 percent of the gun deaths come from the U.S.
And please don’t try to say if people didn’t have guns they would just use something else. Any honest person will tell you that they’d rather be confronted by a man with a knife than a man with a gun. Men with knives just plain can’t do the damage that men with semi-automatic weapons do. In 2012, guns killed 48 people in Japan, eight in Great Britain, 34 in Switzerland, 52 in Canada—and 10,728 in the United States.
This isn’t a category we should be proud of being number one in.
I am familiar with most of gun advocate’s arguments. I have heard the argument that Hitler taking people’s guns was a precursor to throwing them into camps. That argument is historically dubious but beyond that—you already have people in camps. Your worst case scenario is here, and guns and a heavily armed populace did not stop it. Of course they didn’t.
If you seriously think you and your neighbor Earl would be able to fight off the U.S. government with your sloppily assembled guns you are a delusional idiot who has never heard of Ruby Ridge.
There are going to be fans of the second amendment who respond to that by saying, “Well, the right to bear arms wasn’t in the constitution in other countries.” Yeah, the constitution includes what’s commonly referred to as an Elastic Clause. It’s Article 1, Section 8 and it grants congress the power “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” It’s commonly understood that the founders included that clause because they could not accurately anticipate the needs of the populace, say, 250 years in the future. Given that the constitution is intended to provide people with “domestic tranquility”— which no one can experience when our schools, our movie theaters, our concert halls and our yoga studios are places where we might have to contend with a mass shooter—it would be a pretty great time to make use of that elastic clause.
But good news. You don’t have to ban all guns entirely. You just have to put laws into place to make sure that they are hard to get, and safely handled.
They did this in Australia. In 1996, a gunman in Port Arthur killed 35 people in less than half an hour with an AR-15. And, because they are not utterly insane, the people of Australia decided that they would like that not to happen again. Contrary to reports that people in Australia are inherently fearful and opposed to guns, at that time “the gun lobby was the ruling lobby in Australia.” If you look at protest signs from this period, you’ll find they boast the same messages like “Take my guns, lose my vote” and “I pay taxes, I vote, and I shoot” that you might find from gun advocates here in America. Australians loved guns plenty, they just didn’t love them more than children’s lives. And so, gun control reform was instituted.
When you suggest this, in America, a lot of people seemed to think President Obama was going to knock on every door in the country like a bizarre Santa Claus who throws your guns into his sack. That doesn’t happen, of course. What happens, mostly, is that possessing a gun becomes incredibly inconvenient.
After Port Arthur, Australia did make certain guns illegal. They prohibited the ownership, possession and sale of all automatic and semiautomatic weapons, and made it illegal to import those weapons.
In order to collect the ones that people already possessed, they instituted a gun buyback programs for anyone who owned guns that were declared illegal. They were given a fair price for them, set by the NFA, and legal amnesty was offered to anyone who returned a gun they’d obtained illegally. The guns they obtained—around 650,000, or 20 percent of the privately owned guns in the country—were then destroyed. The program was financed through a special, one time tax on citizens. If you think this is outrageous, just remember Trump wanted to spend $100 million on a military parade. Personally, I will happily pay extra in taxes one year if it means I can stop flinching every time a man enters a movie theater with a gym bag.
Australia also created a National Firearm Registry. Currently, in the U.S. there is no system or database that tracks who owns which gun. There are people who think a database constitutes in invasion of privacy. Australians put that logic to rest by stating: “We register cars. We register boats. We even register dogs. So what’s the problem in registering guns?” The answer was that there was none.
And if you do want to own a gun in Australia, and are on that registry—because, for instance, you need to kill wild animals—then officials will periodically check in to make sure you are storing your guns properly in a safe, with the bullets stored separately. One gun owner in Australia told Time Magazine:
“The police are required to inspect your gun room. Since 1996, the police have inspected mine three or four times. While they can come randomly, they normally put a call through and we arrange an agreeable time to come in and inspect it. I’m happy for them to do it. I want them to see that it’s safe.”
You’ll also have to take a safety class before buying a gun, and provide a legitimate reason (like being a member of a hunting club) that you need one. And, in most parts of Australia, you’ll have to wait 28 days.
There have been no mass shootings in Australia for 20 years.
That's not a coincidence. And it’s not because this was easy, or because Australians have a fundamentally different affection for guns than we do. It’s just because they saw their countrymen getting shot by automatic weapons and decided that wasn’t tolerable.
This could be us.
You don’t just have to take my word for it. John Howard, the guy who made this happen in Australia, says we can do it, too.
And I hope we do, soon. We shouldn’t have to endure another day of this.