Our Prime Minster is in the United States this week, apparently meeting with various people, including President Obama. Most of us here are under no illusions that an Australian Prime Minister has anything to say which will be of much importance to the US, but our country did recently get a mention when Obama was speaking about the recent shooting(s). He spoke about Australia’s laws with respect to gun control:
“A couple of decades ago Australia had a mass shooting similar to Columbine or Newtown.” […] “And Australia just said, ‘well, that’s it … we’re not seeing that again’ and basically imposed very severe, tough gun laws and they haven’t had a mass shooting since.”
The massacre to which he was referring is Port Arthur, in Tasmania. It was appalling, traumatising. Nobody could believe it. It remains one of the worst mass shootings in modern history. And the reaction was swift. Bipartisan support–despite some resistance from sectors of the community–enabled sweeping changes to gun laws, making ours some of the strictest in the world.
After the Newtown massacre, I fully expected something similar to happen in the US. I thought, this must be the tipping point. This will be the one event which motivates the public and politicians alike to band together and say, ‘Enough! Our children are dying!’
But of course, that didn’t happen. And that broke me, a little. Because First Offspring was the same age as those children. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like, for some other parent in Newtown to send her son off to school, a little boy who looked and acted just like First Offspring, only to get a call later that day to say that he had been shot, along with so many of his classmates and teachers. And so for essentially nothing to have changed, despite such a desperately terrible tragedy, I had to stop worrying about it. I had to give up on hoping that gun laws might change.
Still, here we are. Years later, and still with all the shooting. And despite wanting to not care, I do care. I have relatives and friends who live in the US, whose children go to school. I want them to be safe. I want it to be one less worry they have. I want there to be some semblance of sanity in gun laws. I want to dispense with all the rhetoric, with all the ‘only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’ type… rubbish.
There needs to be a conversation about why certain groups and organisations are so influential, and why, in a country so powerful and so proud of its democracy as the United States, even the idea of background checks or minor restrictions on gun ownership cannot seem to be entertained.
One of the sticking points in such a conversation seems to be that it’s people, not guns, which are the problem. Some who are against tighter gun controls argue that in other countries where gun laws are stricter, people still manage to kill each other with knives, for example. Obviously, as far as arguments go, that’s a poor one: it ignores that someone with a gun is likely to be able to kill more people than with a knife, and that guns are a killing machine, removing the killer from the victim–stabbing is a lot more difficult and a lot more personal. But grisly mechanics aside, it’s an attempt to deflect discussion of the real issue, which is that comparing apples and oranges is poor logic and only highlights their lack of a proper defence.
However, buried within that poor argument is something which doesn’t often get discussed, because of the gun control debate. Of course, after each shooting, there is the question of ‘why’ the shooter did this, and an array of explanations arise, with mental illness usually coming out as a top contender. That’s understandable, because most of us don’t like to think that everyday, average people would go out and kill en masse. Yet the anti-gun-control lobby has a point. If guns weren’t available, then these would-be killers would just choose another weapon, right?
Overwhelmingly, these killers are young men. In the US, it’s more often young white men. But this should really make no sense at all. Young white men in a developed nation are in a position of privilege. Essentially, white men are in charge of practically everything. The world is their oyster, their future dazzling. You would think they have it made.
But if they’re taking guns to kill and injure as many as they can, then perhaps it’s not as peachy as we’re imagining it. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t want to simply excuse away this behaviour. There are many people in various groups who feel disaffected and disillusioned, and most of them don’t go around killing others when life gets difficult–many of them are certainly in a position which would justify anger or a sense of unfairness. So there is something else which triggers certain individuals to lash out, often with disastrous consequences.
Indeed, as a broad group, men fare poorly. They might enjoy positions of power, they might be able to hold influence over others, they are often the perpetrators of violent offences and abuse. But none of this is good for them–or any of us. Men’s suicide rates in Australia, for example, are between double and four times that of women’s between the ages of 20 and 79.
Because we have become used to identifying racism, sexism, or ableism, and are getting better at attempting to eradicate that kind of discrimination, we ignore that our society–built by white men for other white men–is not really healthy for anyone. Least of all those men. We assume that because it’s ‘their world’, they will thrive in it, but obviously that’s not the case. It’s easy to dismiss their issues as first world problems or argue that they don’t know what it’s like to suffer discrimination, but that’s not very helpful. Their despair is real, and it’s valid.
It’s easy to make the killers into monsters, to think of them as animals or aberrations. But perhaps they’re just one point on a spectrum, and unless we can rebuild the very foundation of our society to create one which promotes emotional maturity, which promotes honest relationships and discussions and refutes the idea that violence is a means to any end, then all of this–the mass shootings, the stabbings, the suicides–will continue.
Oh, and the gun control thing? Yeah, that still needs to happen now, regardless. Because we simply can’t wait for the wheels of social change to turn before those in government decide to address that kind of legislation. People are dying.