Yet he knew that was not enough. At the signing of the Gun Control Act 1968, he said: “This bill – as large as this bill is – is still insufficient because we simply could not bring Congress to carry out the demands we have made of them.
“If firearms are to be kept out of the hands of criminals, out of the hands of the mad, and out of the hands of the irresponsible, then we just need to have licenses…
“The voices that blocked these guarantees were not the voices of an excited nation. They were the voices of a powerful lobby, a gun lobby, which has prevailed in an election year so far.
“But the key to effective crime control remains, in my view, effective gun control. And those of us who are truly concerned about crime just have to – somehow, one day – make our voices heard.
“We must continue to work for the day when Americans can obtain the comprehensive protection to which every American citizen is entitled and deserves – the kind of protection that most civilized nations have long embraced.”
It was 54 years ago and nothing has changed. In fact, the annual number of firearm homicide victims has tripled and the number of firearms in the community has more than doubled.
Today, there are approximately 400 million guns in America – more guns than people – and after each mass shooting, politicians invoke God’s name and call for prayer.
God didn’t refuse to support sensible gun control laws, they did.
As a crime reporter, I have known over 30 people who have been shot, such as gangster Mario Condello, who tried to start a fight with me in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. After he calmed down, we had a reasonable conversation, agreeing to catch up in a few weeks. We never did because he was shot outside his Brighton home.
Like policeman John Kapetanovski, whose quick reflexes saved his life. He raised his arm and deflected the bullet that would have hit him between the eyes. His partner, Rod MacDonald, was shot but returned fire, killing the shooter, Pavel Marinof, known as Mad Max.
I’ve attended the funerals of crooks and cops and seen the livid faces of those they left behind. Far too often I’ve been to the Police Chapel to see flag-draped caskets, hear the lone piper, and see the honor guard winding its way as far as the eye can see.
I’ve also sat and talked to police officers whose lives were changed forever after they went to work on a routine shift and ended up shooting someone.
It’s not a game. It’s not a movie. It’s not politics. It’s life and death.
Seven prime ministers ago, John Howard didn’t just pray for the victims of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, in which 35 people were shot dead by a sniper, he decided to take on the lobby firearms. He didn’t go to church to pray for change, he went to parliament to make change.
In the previous nine years, there had been nine mass shootings in Australia with 49 victims (starting with Hoddle Street in 1987, where seven people were shot).
Gun laws were a matter of state and Howard – who had been elected just six weeks earlier – did not have to sign on to them. He had nervous coalition partners in the National Party, whose electorate included a strong pro-gun element.
The smart political decision would have been to express sympathy and defer to the states. The right thing was to take control.
It was not only politically but physically brave – he had to wear a bulletproof vest during a public rally.
Within 12 days he had a national accord for gun reform. It was not easy.
While most state premiers immediately agreed, he threatened those hesitant with a referendum to make gun control a federal power.
One million guns were destroyed due to the buyout and subsequent gun amnesties.
Since then, we have had a mass shooting in 2019, killing four, in Darwin. (A mass shooting is defined as four or more deaths in a random attack.)
And the lack of readily available guns has helped thwart a series of terrorist attacks in Australia when potential offenders were identified trying to buy guns.
In this country we have many problems but due to a group of national and state politicians willing to stay the course and stand up to the gun lobby, gun murders are not one of them .
Texas and Australia have roughly similar populations, but Texas tops Australia’s annual murder rate every seven weeks.
In Texas, they have 6,000 bars and 8,000 gun dealers. It’s illegal to buy a drink there until you’re 21, but you can buy a military-grade semi-automatic rifle at 18.
In Australia in 2019-20, there were 35 shooting victims, a total surpassed in the United States every 15 hours.
If Australia had the same population as the United States, at our current firearm homicide rate, there would be 444 deaths per year. In the United States, it’s about 20,000.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people, shocked the world. The fact that American residents shoot and kill so many fellow citizens every eight weeks does not shock anyone.
America is in an arms race with itself. More shootings lead not to reasoned debate, but to more people buying guns to “protect” themselves. In 2020, 17 million Americans purchased guns. The percentage of households owning firearms is increasing.
Any suggestion that AR-15 semi-automatic rifles might be banned leads to panic buying. Today, one in five rifles purchased in America is an AR-15. The reality is that nothing is better for the gun trade than a mass shooting.
An AR-15 is the civilian version of a military weapon originally designed to kill people. It fires around 40 rounds per minute. Its punctual range is 550 meters. This means that an average shooter will hit a man-sized target 50% of the time. Its maximum range is 3.6 kilometers.
You can buy an economy model AR-15 in the United States for less than a good TV and about the same price as a nice suit – a suit you could wear to a funeral.
In the United States, school children who should be playing hide and seek learn how to hide from someone who wants to kill them with a store-bought, military-grade weapon.
There are community videos on what to do to protect yourself from a mass killer, as we have advertisements on how to deal with a bushfire. Both, it seems, are considered natural occurrences.
Three and a half hours from Uvalde, Houston, they held a bigger function than the Honey Festival. It was the convention of the National Rifle Association, the powerful lobby group that holds many seemingly helpless American politicians hostage. Sen. Ted Cruz, a strong former presidential candidate, told the conference, “What stops the bad guys with guns are the good guys.”
Elsewhere, another politician suggested that farmers needed AR-15 to protect their chickens from raccoons. It would make a lot of sense if the raccoons were armed with anti-tank guns and wore military-grade ballistic vests.
The only thing that stops stupid politicians are sensible citizens with a vote. This is where the problem lies. Americans do not have the will to change.
Did we mention the other big city in Texas? That would be Dallas, where in 1963 President John F. Kennedy was assassinated with a rifle purchased for $19.95 by mail order by Lee Harvey Oswald.
Two days after the assassination, Oswald was shot dead by nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Ruby used a Colt Cobra .38 revolver which he bought for $62.50 at a local store.
Kennedy’s deputy, Lyndon Johnson, was sworn in as president and at least tried to take on the gun lobby.
The 10 presidents who followed him prayed for the dead.
God bless America.