Dear America,

This is a letter from me to you about your gun crisis.

Don’t tell me there is no crisis, because watching from even this distance it is very clear that there is. I don’t want to tell anyone how to run their country because I’m not in the least bit qualified to do so. I’m also going to stick to gun law only for this, because you guys have a range of issues that baffle me. It’s nothing personal- here in Australia we also have a range of issues that baffle me!

I’m 34 years old and have lived in Australia all my life, so my experience of guns and gun law is likely very different to yours. I grew up in a home that did have guns- air rifles that were relics of my father’s childhood. That was about it. When I was 3, there was a massacre in Milperra involving rival bikie gangs. I don’t remember it at all. A few years later, when I was 6, there were two more massacres in Melbourne- the Queen Street massacre and the Hoddle Street massacre. After those two, some states starting requiring firearms to be registered and certain guns became restricted. Then, in 1991, there was another mass shooting in Strathfield Plaza. All up, 7 people died, 5 of them by shooting.

I was 10 at the time, and wrote a letter to the Prime Minister to ask for guns to be banned. Precocious, right? Anyway, I got a nice letter back from someone’s secretary or assistant, I think, and not much changed. Some years after that, in 1996, I was at a school camp. This one morning, my best friend and I were given permission to walk to the local shop. As we approached, we saw a newspaper poster outside showing a photo of a young man with long blonde hair and blue eyes. Being 90s teens, all we saw was a potentially grungey dude we could feast our eyes on. As we got closer, we were horrified to learn that the man with the long hair in the picture was a mass murderer. He was Martin Bryant, a man we would learn had just killed 35 people and injured 23 more in Port Arthur, Tasmania. This was to be a pivotal event in changing our gun laws. Not everyone was happy about it but to cut a long story short, the Howard government did it anyway. They put through a once-off increase on our Medicare levy and used the money to fund a gun buy-back scheme. This went on for almost a year and in that time, about a million guns were bought back and destroyed. A million guns out of circulation, just like that.

I’m not saying we solved the problem entirely. There is thought to be around 250,000 that were never surrendered and are still in circulation in what is called a ‘grey market’. What I do know is that now, gun crime is pretty uncommon here. It still exists, for sure. But it’s never really been an enormously common thing here, even before the changes to our law. We have never really had any huge emphasis on being armed with guns, like you guys do with your Constitution.

I have to wonder if the changes we made nipped something in the bud before it really got started. Did we take almost a million guns out of our society before Australians really had the desire to arm themselves in the way that Americans seem to want to? We’ll never know, but regardless, I’m glad.

What I do know for sure is that the news coming out of the States regularly horrifies me. I read of shootings in schools where the response is to lament the fact that the teacher didn’t have a gun to put a stop to things. Shooting in a church? Shame the Reverend was unarmed. Shooting in a theatre? Perhaps we should arm the ushers. I’m sure you know better than I do what the attitudes are over there.

Whenever the topic of tightening gun laws comes up, many Americans seem so horrified and say that this will mean only the bad guys have guns. On the surface, that sounds scary. I can see that. Surely, though, any such plan would also have to involve a crackdown on illegal guns too? Also, I’m not entirely convinced that it’s only “bad guys” shooting people over there because I read a horrifying thing recently. It was that in America, over the last few years, more preschoolers have died due to shooting than police officers have.

boy gun

And apparently, more children have killed someone than terrorists have in the U.S.  The fact that children are able to access guns is frightening enough. But that they are actually using them? This breaks my heart- little kids should not be put in a position where this is a possibility. Surely we can agree on that much? What sort of impact is something like that going to have on a person? Growing up knowing that they shot their sibling or parent or someone else dead when they were 3 years old?

Even with the knowledge that small children are being killed and also accidentally killing people with guns, gun culture has even begun to permeate attachment parenting advocates who preach gentle methods of raising kids, like co-sleeping and babywearing. I am part of several international babywearing groups online, and every so often a thread will pop up with American mamas discussing the types of holster they use when babywearing or how to “carry concealed” while wearing a certain type of carrier. Invariably, a non-American says that they don’t understand it, or that they’d feel uncomfortable wearing a baby and a deadly weapon. Then the defense starts- of how they’d kill to protect their family, of how it’s their right to carry a gun, of how careful they are and of how they will teach their own kids to shoot the minute they are old enough and so on. And so the cycle continues.

I’ve read that in America, for young people, it’s more common to be killed by shooting than it is to be killed in a car accident. You guys have endured 994 mass shooting in 1004 days. These have resulted in more than a thousand people dying and another 3000+ injured. I can’t even pretend to fathom the power that certain lobby groups hold there. So much power that they perpetuate this gun culture- for “protection”and for “freedom” while around a hundred families bury children shot by accident each year, while so many people of all ages are killed and injured just going about their lives. There are so many comparisons and examples that we could make but I think you can probably see what I’m getting at. From the perspective of someone in anther country, it seems that Americans are dropping like flies over there.

Sitting here, many miles away, it’s easy for me to tell you that things need to change. It’s easy for me to see that the right to a weapon is important to you guys. It’s not so easy for me to understand why it is more important than what it’s costing you.

#FYBF @ With Some Grace

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