On Valentine’s Day, a single person walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida. Five minutes later later, 17 people lay dead or dying, more than 20 were injured and countless others were plunged into incomprehensible grief. As news coverage and shock value fade, the narrative that this shooting and the many that preceded it were somehow not preventable has emerged yet again, providing American voters and legislators a convenient excuse for complacency. But the notion that no action can decrease the likelihood of future such tragedies is false, flying in the face of existing evidence to the contrary. While attempts at serious reform seem unlikely amid today’s political gridlock, Americans should, at the very least, examine responses that have succeeded in curbing these supposedly unstoppable tragedies.
In 1996, Australia faced a similar act of horrifying violence when a lone gunman armed with a semiautomatic rifle murdered 35 people in the popular tourist destination of Port Arthur. This massacre shocked into action a country that had seen a sharp rise in mass shootings since the 1980s. In the face of intense opposition, Australia’s prime minister at the time, conservative John Howard of the Liberal Party of Australia, proposed sweeping reforms, including a national gun registry and a ban on the sale and possession of semiautomatic weapons. Some regarded the proposals as an unfair attack on law-abiding gun owners. But Howard and former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer succeeded in pushing through new legislation, which Fischer said won him “respect across the political spectrum.”
A mandatory buyback program for the newly banned weapons led to the voluntary surrender of more than 700,000 guns. The results speak for themselves. Since 1996, Australia has not seen a single mass shooting. Studies credit the reforms with saving more than 200 lives each year.
The inevitable response when examples such as this are cited in American political debates is that the Second Amendment would prevent similar legislation in the U.S. Those arguments rest on a faulty interpretation of our constitution and ignore past gun control measures that have been implemented effectively. In 1934, responding to an outbreak of gang violence, Congress passed the National Firearms Act, taxing heavily certain weapons, including machine guns. In 1968, further legislation was enacted banning the importation and sale of new fully automatic weapons and implementing strict registration requirements for existing ones.
Today, machine gun use is almost nonexistent in crime. The time has come to extend such restrictions to semiautomatic rifles used in at least 11 mass shootings since 2010. While the gun lobby may claim that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” the undeniable truth is that these weapons enable individuals to murder others with high rates of speed and precision. If the Florida shooter had not possessed an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, it is unlikely that 17 people would have been mortally wounded in the span of just five minutes at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Limiting the sale and possession of weapons designed for the sole purpose of efficient killing would be consistent with the “well regulated” phrasing in the Second Amendment and position the U.S. in line with other developed nations.
Mass shootings are not a uniquely American phenomenon. What distinguishes the U.S. from other countries is an inability to support logical measures proven to save innocent lives and prevent future massacres. Americans face a stark choice: ending easy access to high-powered weapons or accepting senseless acts of violence as the new norm. The right decision should be clear.
Andrew Kliewer is a College sophomore from Dallas, Texas.