Why do Australians glorify criminals

Gun laws - Australia is safer without weapons

Shots in Tasmania - hundreds, thousands. They reverberate to this day. If there is one moment in Australia's recent history that has fundamentally changed the country - politically, legally, socially - it was this hour of terror.

On a Sunday afternoon in April 1996: Martin Bryant, a 28-year-old with a blond mane, steps into a café in the Port Arthur tourist complex in the south of the island.

With a semi-automatic rifle from Colt he shot 12 guests and employees in 15 seconds. Ten others are injured, some seriously. People are fleeing outside.

But Bryant has no mercy on them either. A mother pleads for the lives of her two little girls. Bryant just grins and pulls the trigger. Shot after shot, magazine after magazine. 35 people died that day and many more were injured. Port Arthur was the largest massacre in modern Australia.

Rapid anti-weapons program

Only months later, and an act on this scale would hardly have been possible. In record time, the country had passed laws banning not only the importation of automatic weapons, but also their possession. Canberra began buying back semiautomatic machines.

The protest against the measures was loud and came from the usual corners: ultra-right nationalist groups, shooting clubs and farmers. There were warnings against the alleged disarmament of honest citizens by the state. Prime Minister John Howard had to wear a bulletproof vest. This is how he and members of his government felt threatened.

Absurd fears

Absurd fears spread in the media. If the continent were to be invaded by “Chinese” and “Muslims”, women and cows could no longer be defended. "Since I was a teenager, I've been sleeping next to the bed with my loaded semi-automatic," said excavator operator and hobby farmer Peter.

He wanted to be ready when "the hordes from completely overcrowded Indonesia" came. After all, they would only be waiting to «colonize our almost empty continent».

Thousands of weapons back

But the Australians, who like to celebrate the myth of being a rebellious, anti-authoritarian people of pioneers, did what they always do: they followed what the politicians told them to do.

In this case, rightly so. The program was a complete success. Tons of weapons were handed in to police stations across the country, and the owners paid for them by taxpayers. Tens of thousands of rifles ended up in the furnace.

Since then, the country has been one of the safest in the world for firearms. Anyone who wants to buy a rifle - single shot with a small magazine - must have compelling reasons: activity in agriculture or membership in a rifle club. Fear of invasion is not one of these reasons.

Anyone who is allowed to own a weapon after completing a test and waiting for weeks must adhere to strict regulations regarding transport, storage and safety. Even how the gun cabinet must be mounted is prescribed. There are stab checks by the police. The license is reviewed every few years.

Statistics show success

There has been no mass shooting in Australia in 22 years. The number of violent crimes involving firearms has dropped to a minimum.

In 2014, the murder rate fell to less than one person in 100,000 - a fifth of the United States. Firearms were involved in only 32 of the total of 238 homicides - in 1990 there were 307.

That in a nation of 24 million people. In the American city of Chicago with a population of around 2.7 million, more than 500 people were shot dead last year.

The suicide rate using a firearm has also dropped 80 percent in Australia after Port Arthur, according to researchers in a study. Attempts to kill yourself with a rifle are far more likely to be fatal than any other means, say experts.

Today even critics attest that the country is safer. Sagittarians have long since got used to the tougher conditions. And the Chinese and the Muslims did not invade Australia despite the "disarmament".

But that doesn't stop people like Peter from continuing to sleep with the gun next to the bed. However, it's a shotgun today. With two cartridges.

Broadcast: Radio SRF 2 Kultur, Kultur aktuell, 02/23/2018, 6:50 a.m.

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