As this piece is written, the world is going through the grief of another gun related massacre, this time of children. This is among the worst types of crimes that can be committed. We have seen celebrities and politicians decrying that lack of American gun control and the ‘selfishness’ of senators who refuse to pass legislation which would restrict one’s ability to purchase and own some firearms. What is difficult and necessary in these circumstances is to look at the broader picture, divorced from the heated emotion of the time and consider what is the right course.
America is not Australia.
Australia is touted as an ideal, by those who seek to tighten gun control regulations, as a place where gun related violence is few and far between and where the last significant massacre in living memory was in 1996, where a lone gunman killed 35 people. In the wake of the 1996 massacre, the government enacted laws which significantly restricted all citizens ability to purchase and keep firearms. The effect of this was that over 600,000 firearms were taken from citizens (bear in mind Australia’s population at this time was around 17 million) without any avenue of recourse. To this date, no automatic weapons are legally allowed to be owned outside of the military. Australia is a very safe country to live, and the threat of gun violence is so minimal it is rarely something that is considered or talked about outside of organised crime.
When Australia is placed on a pedestal as the golden standard, what isn’t talked about is the cost of these restrictions. The cost of disarming the public, or infringing upon their ability to bear arms is that they are left with no threat of violence against their government in the event of tyranny.
Australia has encountered two major internal coup d'etat (they are so small that they are referred to as rebellions). The first was in 1808, where the Rum Rebellion which occurred when (amongst other things) restrictions were placed on the use of Rum which resulted in a rebellion of around 400 soldiers. The second, in 1854 when miners rebelled against the government for what they considered to be the exorbitant cost of mining licences, which involved around 250 rebels. These were both fairly significant occurrences in Australia’s history, however, let us contrast this to America’s civil war which lasted for around eight years, involved tens of thousands of civilian soldiers, formed international alliances, was in response to fundamental and widespread tyranny of the British monarchy and resulted in severance of the United States from the British empire and led to the forming of some of the most fundamental instruments in the western world (being the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and eventually the Bill of Rights). Australia’s battles are not remembered nor are their ends celebrated in the way that the 4th of July is celebrated.
Australia has not had to fight against internal tyranny, and the fear of tyranny is not proximal like it is in the minds of our American cousins. A place that intentionally keeps itself well-armed is a place that keeps its history close to its heart, and does well to remember it. Think also of Russia’s response to coronavirus vaccines spruiked by their government; their take-up was slow and their hesitancy was some of the highest in the world; the reason is obviously that they mistrusted their government, who was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of their comrades over the past century.
A government should be scared of its people, not the other way around.
Thankfully Australia has not been subject to any flagrant abuses of power by its national government. The same cannot be said of its state governments which have enacted numerous lockdowns and further restrictions on the unvaccinated (it is still illegal in certain industries for people to work without being vaccinated). Whilst these lockdowns have been partially tolerable, what is to stop the state governments from abusing this power again? It certainly isn’t the fear of firearms.
In America, four presidents have been assassinated along with around 50 other high-profile politicians. Countless assassination plots have occurred and been smothered. To be clear, I am not at all suggesting that assassinations are a good idea (quite the opposite). What I am suggesting is that there is a tangible fear from politicians in America, and this is likely in part due to the fact that it is a well-armed country. The ides of March wouldn’t be such a well-remembered date were it not for the fact that Julius Caesar was considered a tyrant by some, and that these people who believed this were well armed. Murder is a heinous crime and it is no idle reason that it carries the consequences of life imprisonment and death (depending where you look). Whilst tyranny is not a crime, perhaps it should be, and what should be the consequences of this crime?
Comparing the likely consequences.
Inevitably one must consider the likely consequences of gun crime and of the loss of liberty in the event that tighter firearm regulations are enacted. There is a reasonable nexus between the availability and prevalence of automatic weapons and the occurrence of significant gun crime; In Australia where automatic weapons cannot legally be owned by citizens, it still has gun crime, but massacres rarely reach the number of victims that are freshly at mind.
The antithetical argument is this; where firearms are more prevalent, the people with the firearms will be better equipped to protect themselves against the tyranny of their government. Luckily Australia has not had to deal with widespread tyranny to the degree that America has, and America has not encountered such a thing in living memory. Between the two nations, America is better armed to defend against a corrupt government seeking to wrongfully suppress its people. Perhaps it is less likely to encounter this problem for the same reason; its government is afraid of its people.
Where to draw the line?
Doing nothing appears likely to allow the same prevalence of significant gun violence to occur. Imposing further restrictions on gun ownership appears likely to be strongly opposed, and will necessarily erode on civil liberties, and flies in the face of a nation that’s founded on the principles of individual rights against the tyranny of unwarranted government overreach. Which of the two paths is a lesser evil?