Our Deadly Silence: Australia Has An Important Role In The Ongoing USA Gun Debate


Friends and allies should be able to have frank discussions and sometimes disagree. But on the American gun debate, Australia nothing to offer but plenty to say, writes Thomas Haskell.

Regardless of their views on gun control, mass shootings must be a tiring process for Americans socially, politically, and emotionally. With every new mass shooting, Americans are forced yet again to go through the motions and engage in another debate on gun control.

For those whose allegiance lies with the second amendment, they will be fatigued from arguing why more guns is the solution and why the Second Amendment is some infallible American deity. For those calling for more gun control, the debate is a tiresome one because once again they must argue their case as to why gun control will save an untold number of lives, and why these lives are more important than the right to bear arms. More often than not, they will almost reflexively bring out the example of Australia following the Port Arthur Massacre.

So far, Australia’s direct input into this debate has come more through its citizenry than its government. With every mass shooting, scores of Australians will take to social media to vent their frustration and bemusement at just how a nation whose values and culture aligns with theirs in so many ways can allow their people to slaughter each other with guns.

Australia’s most valuable contribution to this discussion comes from its legacy following the Port Arthur Massacre: zero (0) mass shootings. Given this, it is more than just disappointing that our own Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, would shy away from affirming this legacy as a model for the US to follow.

A screencap from ABC footage of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announcing a greater focus on terrorism, July 2017.

Turnbull’s decision at a joint press conference with President Trump to dismiss the Port Arthur solution as an appropriate model for US gun control flies in the face of everything our relationship with the US should stand for. He stated that “[the American gun situation is]a completely different context historically, legally and so forth”.

It would be improper to call this a moment of cowardice because the reality is that it’s more damaging than that. Dismissing the Port Arthur solution allowed Trump to wrongly dismiss the US and Australia as a false equivalency when it comes to gun control – “They are very different countries with very different sets of problems,” he said. Given how frequently the Australian example is brought up by gun control activists, a refusal to affirm its efficacy from the country’s own Prime Minister hinders the cause far more than it helps.

As an example of the benefits that emerge when disarming the general population, Australia has a moral responsibility to assert the case for gun control. State sovereignty is important and Australia ought not to interfere with the domestic policies of the United States any more than it needs to, but in this particular case the circumstances are so extraordinary that we must offer our support as a nation to those advocating for gun control.

A common fear of those opposing gun control is that the government will subjugate them to tyranny once they are disarmed. We have a duty to point out that that is not the case.

Another common fear is that they will no longer be able to defend themselves from intruders or anyone else seeking to do them harm. We also have a duty to point out that guns aren’t and never will be the solution to these problems. Simply put, we have a duty to point out that the fetishization of guns and the Second Amendment is costing people their lives.

US president Donald Trump, delivers his first speech to the US Congress.

Again, state sovereignty is important, but leaders like Turnbull have a responsibility to represent us on the world stage. As a nation, we hurt every time we switch on the news or check our phones to learn that more innocent lives were taken by a deranged individual pulling the trigger on a gun so easily obtained. The frustration we feel from this senseless violence is compounded by conservative America’s arrogance in their propensity to assert mental illness as the leading cause of mass shootings and to then assert more guns as the solution to a problem created by too many guns.

Why, as a political actor on so many other issues, are we so afraid to stick our nose in their business on this issue, and potentially help save lives? Why do we insist on sheepishly dismissing our own successes in this area out of fear of offending our ally? Why do we just stand on the sideline when one of our closest allies suggests that arming teachers is the solution, saying that “well, it wouldn’t really work for us, but if they want to do that who are we to stop them?”

Who are we to stop them? We are their ally. Australia must enter the American gun control debate. We not only have a right to do so, we also have a responsibility. Turnbull is in an interesting position as the Australian Prime Minister in this debate. Momentum is shifting in the public debate surrounding gun control; victims are leading the call for reform and the NRA’s nefarious influence on conservative policy is becoming more and more transparent as time goes on.

Now more than ever, Australia is relevant as a voice for gun control in American politics. Turnbull must affirm our successes and call out America for their failures. To do anything less would be a betrayal to both the Australian and the American people.

Tom Haskell is a student from Adelaide, currently studying Politics and Law. He is also a former editor of On Dit, the student magazine at the University of Adelaide.