Reporter's Notebook

The Certainty of More Shootings
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James Fallows leads an ongoing discussion with readers on the inevitability (or otherwise) of mass shootings in the U.S. To join in, drop us a note: hello@theatlantic.com.

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How Australia Eliminated Mass Shootings

An Aussie reader has a valuable perspective on gun control:

I’m a UK and Australian national and I’ve lived most of my life in those countries. Like many non-Americans, I am bemused by the debates over gun control in the U.S. and annoyed when gun rights activities attempt to paint countries with less of a passion for firearms as “less free.”

I am not “anti-gun” per se. I can see how some members of society require firearms for their work (e.g. farmers dealing with animals). Hunting is a slightly different story. The Australian response to the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 means that our country is now a case study in America as either an example of sensible gun legislation or a totalitarian state intent on robbing gun owners of their right to fire at stuff.

However, in the state of New South Wales, an electoral quirk means that the Shooters and Fishers Party (yes, Australia has a political party explicitly devoted to guns—and maybe fishing rods, I suppose, but mostly guns) sometimes holds the balance of power in the state senate—which they often attempt to leverage to turn the state’s national parks into free fire zones. Personally, I think if you want to hunt animals, you should do it with your bare hands rather than cowering behind a telescopic sight like some kind of wuss, but that’s just me. Culling of animal populations is necessary, but I’m uncomfortable entrusting it to amateurs.

The absence of any legal support for concealed carry in Australia means that I know that pretty much everyone I meet day to day is not packing heat nor likely to escalate to a lethal level on the rare occasions our interactions sour.

Following the Port Arthur massacre—one of the deadliest in world history, killing 35—Australia dramatically tightened its gun laws by outlawing automatic and semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns. A compulsory “National Firearms Buyback Scheme” got 600,000 such guns out of private hands and financially compensated their owners with a total of $500 million derived from a tax increase. Uri recently noted the program’s impact:

Several readers scrutinize the email from our Australian reader:

That Australian gun “buyback” was just sugar-coated confiscation. The guns were registered, and the government knew who the owners were and where they lived. The unstated threat was: “We’re making you a deal you can’t refuse. Either sell your guns to the government for whatever pittance we offer, or we’ll send some armed men to kick your door down and take those guns by force.”

And that’s a one-way process. Even if the law is repealed through the political process, those gun owners will never get their guns back and will probably never be compensated for their fair-market value. Anti-gunners like to scoff at the “slippery slope” argument, but it’s also clear that they envision the issue as an irreversible, one-way process.

Another reader:

Well. You’re gonna get a lot of email about this one! I hope mine adds something useful. To state my biases up front: I’m a gun owner.

Now that the immediate crisis in Orlando has passed and the long process of recovery continues, it’s worth revisiting our long and sadly ongoing discussion thread on mass shootings. In the most recent installments from January, an Australian reader noted the dramatic gun-control measures that the Australia government imposed following the the 1996 Port Arthur massacre—one of the deadliest in world history, killing 35, but now surpassed by the body count of 50 in Orlando. Australia subsequently banned automatic and semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns, and a compulsory “National Firearms Buyback Scheme” got 600,000 such guns out of private hands.

Several readers scrutinized our reader’s Australia-U.S. comparison, and even the Australian reader himself listed several reasons why similar reforms would be next to impossible in the U.S. However, this next Australian reader, emailing this week, argues that Americans could still follow the lead of Australians without going to the extreme of bans and buyback schemes:

The reasons why mass shootings have been limited in Australia are not just related to the 1990s buyback of semi-auto weapons. There are a lot of more practical steps that keep guns off the street and out of the hands of criminals and psychopaths.

For instance, anyone who wants to keep guns in their home must have a police-approved gun safe, which must be fixed in place with approved mounting bolts so that it cannot be removed. Guns are required to be locked in the safe at all times when not actually in use and ammunition must be stored separately. And I’m not talking about an old school locker with the key on top; there are detailed specifications for gun safes to prevent them being broken into, and it is an offence to leave the keys lying around the house where they can be found by an intruder. Police routinely check shooters’ safes for compliance.

Last Wednesday, several days after the massacre in Orlando, a reader wrote:

I think Notes is the best place to vent my frustration. Dear Media:

Please stop publishing pictures of the Pulse shooter. Whether or not martyrdom was part of his mindset, constantly referring to him by name and publishing his picture creates infamy where there should be none. Relentlessly publishing photos of the shooter (even worse, selfies), he becomes more important than the victims. It iconifies him, and if he did indeed do this act in the name of Allah, it reinforces him as a martyr by giving him more of an identity than the victims. I think he deserves to be stripped of an identity.

On that count, the homepage of The New York Times did a commendable job:

Here’s a novel thought from a reader: “Perhaps we could name the perpetrators of mass shootings in a manner similar to the naming of hurricanes. Instead of names, real or made-up, we could use a series of number/letter combinations to refer to the gunmen.”

Another reader, Jamie, has also been frustrated with media coverage of the Pulse shooter:

Given the resurgence in public interest in the phenomenon of mass shootings following the tragic events in Orlando, there’s one factor that seems to be overlooked—specifically, how the modern media landscape inspires copycat killers. The Atlantic has previously ran several excellent articles on the subject, including “Are Mass Shootings Contagious?” and “The Media Needs to Stop Inspiring Copycat Murders. Here’s How.

I am personally of the opinion that this is the single most persuasive explanation for the increase in mass shootings.