We might have politicians sleeping with former staffers. We achieved marriage equality only through a survey that has since been labelled ‘damaging‘ by the very parliament that enforced it. But, between the policy missteps and personal oversights, there are moments in which one, resounding message can be heard across the nation: Thank God we’re not America.
During the 2016 Presidential campaign, perhaps. Even through the inauguration that followed.
But certainly, certainly, on days like last Wednesday when a 19-year-old walked into a Florida high school and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle on his former classmates, killing 17 and injuring several others.
The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, used a “AR-15 semi-automatic style weapon”, TIME reports – a string of words that likely means very little to most Australians except for the fact: It’s the same weapon that was used in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the Newtown in the US. A shooting that claimed 27 lives, including the shooter’s.
In moments such as these, Australians’ sentiment of relieved gratitude and horror is reflected in reverse from across the Pacific, by those who are calling for more stringent gun laws and an end to the senseless killing.
“Be Like Australia” is the message that’s gone viral after photographer Alex Ellinghausen captured a 13-year-old girl standing in front of the White House holding a placard that reads just that. She was part of a rally for tougher gun laws in Washington DC on Monday – the President’s Day public holiday.
LISTEN: Amelia Lester explains why US gun laws will never change, no matter how many lives are lost. Post continues below
On the back of Makenzie Hymes’ hand-written “Be Like Australia” poster, shared to Ellinghausen’s Instagram account, there are the numbers all Australians know to be true:
“Australia had its worst mass shooting on April 28, 1996. Twelve days later, Australia announced a bipartisan deal on sweeping gun control measures. The government bought back and destroyed over 1 million guns. Australia has not had a mass shooting since then.”
Hymes, from Virginia, is referencing the mass shooting at Tasmania’s Port Arthur, in which 35 people were killed by a long gunman using semiautomatic weapons. “Port Arthur broke the nation’s heart,” Australian journalist and author Richard Glover wrote for the The Washington Post last October, after yet another American mass shooting.
Immediately after, the nation’s then-Prime Minister John Howard took action. It was a brave and unpopular move from parliament at the time. But it was effective.
Howard introduced a buy-back scheme to reclaim and destroy guns from Australian citizens. He made the private ownership of semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns illegal. And he introduced uniform firearms licensing across the country.
There’s not been a mass shooting in Australia since.
Speaking to Fairfax Media, 13-year-old Hymes said: “It’s not impossible to change things, it’s not stupid. Various foreign countries like Australia have done things to get rid of the bad guns. I don’t know much about what Australia did, but I know that they got what they needed sooner rather than later.”
And we did.
When 17 families are morning the senseless killing of their loved ones – mostly teenagers, Australia serves as a leading example: Things can change and the killing can stop.