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Resist the normalising of gun culture

  • 04 April 2019


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.

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