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Resist the normalising of gun culture



I was on the train arriving in Melbourne's CBD last week when word came through that there was a suspected gunman at Flagstaff Station. As we now know, it turned out to be a false alarm — the supposed gunman was just a busker with an unusual morning breathing routine.

Police at Flagstaff Station during the gun scare (Twitter, @yeahsiri)Following so close on the heels of the Christchurch massacre and the debacle over One Nation's attempts to cosy up to the NRA, a false alarm is not surprising: guns are on our minds. For most Australians this is both unfamiliar and uncomfortable. And that's the way it should stay.

Last month my Californian sister sent me a text she had just received. 'Shelter in place in the area of Grove Hill Ave due to a possible armed person in a residence.' I grew up on Grove Hill Avenue, half a century ago, not far from where my sister now lives in a sleepy town of 12,000 people in northern California. Gun violence didn't come to town back then.

I have watched the normalisation of guns and gun violence in my home country, with gun proponents convincing peaceful citizens that the only answer is to get armed. Visiting a friend in Houston in the late 1980s, I was shocked to learn she and her husband kept a loaded handgun in the glove box of their car to 'feel safer'. In the early 1990s another friend's father gave her a 'woman's gun', small enough to fit in her handbag, for walking across campus when she was getting her MBA.

A 2018 poll found that 58 per cent of Americans believe that having a gun makes you safer; a belief that has grown dramatically in the past 20 years. But there is now strong evidence that gun ownership actually greatly increases your risk of death. A 2014 study found that the presence of a gun in your home tripled your chances of death by suicide and doubled it for homicide.

However, fear trumps reason every time, and Americans are scared. There are now about 120 guns per 100 people in the US. And those guns are used to kill people. There were 40,000 gun deaths in the US in 2017. More Americans have been killed in gun-related incidents in the past 50 years (1.53 million) than in all of the wars in America's history (1.2 million).

Fortunately, as we have seen in Australia, gun control measures work. In the 23 years since the Port Arthur massacre there have been just two mass shootings in Australia (with 'mass shooting' defined as incidents where four or more people are killed). In the US, there were 29 such mass shootings in 2018 alone.


"It's the everyday gun violence, and culture, of the US that we must never allow to take hold in Australia — and there are worrying signs that we could move in that direction."


Mass shootings, such as the one that occurred in Christchurch, deeply undermine our sense of security and cause us to reflect on our own safety, even though they only represent a tiny fraction of firearm deaths. But it's the everyday gun violence, and culture, of the US that we must never allow to take hold in Australia — and there are worrying signs that we could move in that direction.

A report released last week by the Australia Institute found a dramatic increase in firearms per gun-owner here, with a near doubling since Port Arthur. It also found an increase in the overall number of firearms in the country, despite a drop in the number of people engaged in sport shooting. Given that suicide is already the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44 years, increasing the number of guns is the last thing we need.

The outcry over One Nation's courting of the NRA is heartening, but it's not enough. The Australia Institute's report found that pro-gun advocates in Australia are spending similar amounts per person on influencing our political parties as the NRA is in the US. The report also noted similar patterns of political advertising by the gun lobby here as with the NRA, focusing on topics like crime rates to undermine our sense of safety and security.

In 2017, my then 14-year-old son — who was raised in Melbourne — spent five months at my former high school in California. One autumn day he folded his six-and-a-half-foot frame under his desk while other students raced to pull down the blinds and the teacher locked the classroom door without panic or surprise. The 'active shooter drill' is a familiar part of their school routine.

When I attended that same high school, we climbed under the desk annually for an earthquake drill, a disaster as unpreventable as one could imagine. Gun violence is preventable. Keeping the NRA out of Australia and supporting strengthened gun control is our best prevention.



Susan BiggarSusan Biggar is an American-born, Melbourne-based writer and author.

Main image: Police at Flagstaff Station during the gun scare (Twitter, @yeahsiri)

Topic tags: Susan Biggar, gun control, One Nation, Christchurch attack



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Existing comments

The Wild West entered oblivion over 120 years ago. The USA hasn't caught up yet. They still call the head of police "Sheriff" and he still wears a cowboy hat. They are making progress, however, and no longer use horses for essential transport - must be more money in cars.

john frawley | 03 April 2019  

In detective novels, when a man comes through a door with a gun it's usually a page-turner. In real life, it's scary. To say the least. After Sandy Hook, I believed America would change its gun laws. Every mass shooting is horrific and indescribable and when children are involved there are no words. Thankfully, in Australia these shootings are rare but we should continue to be vigilant about gun control.

Pam | 04 April 2019  

Susan I agree with what you say. But its more than gun control. I grew up in Melbourne as one of 6 and left home at 22 and we had never had a TV. One of the biggest problems is the violence that is the norm shown on free to air TV here in : CSI, Hawaii 5 O, NCIS, Bones, Criminal minds, Spicks and Specks, Bad Boys, Alaska State Trooper, Americas most wanted plus all the UK cop shows. This is not an exhaustive list. I dont know who chooses the content on free to air but for decades we have had to put up with US violence on the episodic shows as well as the Westerns, War shows, Bundy and shows of that violent depraved type. eg John Wick. The number of dead strew the screen like swatted flies. Kids here now think that content is a normal part of life so apart from the gun laws, we could start by banning violent USA and UK content from our TV screens.

Francis Armstrong | 05 April 2019  

Well said. Sadly, even if the appalling NRA expedition permanently discredits One Nation - I am not hopeful - we still have other parties trying to white-ant our gun laws. In addition to the shooters group in parliament, the Liberal Democrats (neither liberal nor democratic), Shooters and Fishers, and not least especially in Queensland, Katters Australia Party. The Katters on the surface claim to be conservative Catholics, but bizarrely have strong family ties to the country's biggest firearms importer. The Church has a responsibility to use whatever credibility it might still have, to call out those including its own adherents, who would spread the firearms culture.

Llewellyn Davies | 05 April 2019  

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