Words by Kira-Louise Henderson
“Holding a gun amnesty like Australia did will take guns out of good peoples’ hands and keep them in criminals’ hands. Yeah, we can make gun laws. But criminals don’t follow laws,” says Ashley, an American student from Florida.
A large scale gun massacre has not occurred in Australia since the Port Arthur Massacre, in 1996. In the United States however, there have been 74 school shootings alone since December 2013. Most recently, in May this year, Elliot Rodger killed 6 people and injured 13 others before turning the gun on himself, near the University of California. Surprisingly, whilst the number of shootings in US schools has gone down, the number of fatalities in these shootings has increased.
In response to the recent tragedies, US President Barack Obama made comments praising Australia’s gun control laws. He compared them to his own country’s gun violence, stating that “our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There’s no advanced, developed country that would put up with this.”
In the US, restrictions on privately owned firearms vary state to state. Generally, a person must be 18 to purchase a shotgun or 21 to purchase other types of guns. Purchasing from a licenced dealer requires criminal and mental health background checks. Where a past history of family violence exists, the right to firearm possession can be denied. However these background checks are not mandatory for private sales. Furthermore, federal law does not require records of the acquisition, possession and transfer of privately held firearms, meaning that the possession of a firearm can be almost untraceable.
Meanwhile, in Australia, the right to private gun ownership is not guaranteed by law. Prospective purchases must prove that a genuine reason to posses a firearm exists and, unlike the US, personal protection is not enough. To obtain a firearm licences, which last for no more than five years, owners must also have demonstrate an understanding of firearm safety and law. Although children, as young as 10, may own a firearm, authorities maintain detailed record of gun owners.
At the heart of the US debate is the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights, giving citizens the “right to bear arms.” According to Ashley, the main purpose of this Amendment is to keep their government in check. “The right to bear arms keeps the government from having so much power,” she says. “All the Amendments are important, but the Second Amendment is the most important because it ensures the others won’t be taken away.”
With US leaders looking to Australia’s gun laws in an effort to curb the amount of violence, and increasing media coverage of mass shootings, some believe that now is the time to push for serious gun reform. Others believe that with this violence, it is now more important than ever for people to stay armed.