(Today's guest post is by Daniel Faris. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.
Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)
Gun control is one of the defining issues of our lifetimes. It ranks alongside climate change, gay marriage, pot legalization, and health care reform in the list of issues that Americans desperately want to see addressed in a productive and realistic way.
And yet, we can’t seem to get any traction on it. I’m as guilty as anyone of using my heart instead of my head to formulate my opinions, but that’s going to have to change--for all of us--before we put this issue to bed.
I have, historically, supported reasonable gun ownership rights. I refuse to believe that we can continue to shape our public policy around the tiniest percentage of American citizens who own guns and kill people with them.
After all, isn’t that what America wants? The Occupy Wall Street movement rallied against the 1% and their privilege, citing America’s growing fondness for giving the tiniest minority--the wealthy--special treatment. Neither can we allow the tiny fraction of violent gun owners to shape our nation’s laws.
However, we all owe it to ourselves to challenge our beliefs. Here’s what challenged mine.
Historical Precedent: The Port Arthur Massacre
As you may or may not know, Port Arthur in Australia was the setting for one of the deadliest shootings in world history; in fact, it remains the deadliest attack of its kind in the entire English-speaking world. In 1996, 26-year-old Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 23 others at the Port Arthur prison colony.
What makes it a truly remarkable event, however, is not the lost life but the overwhelming response of the Australian people; a reported 90% of poll respondents indicated that they favored stricter gun control methods, culminating in what remains one of the most successful gun control overhauls ever.
Just twelve days after the shooting, Australia’s leadership agreed to ban semi-automatic and automatic weapons, and also instituted a buy-back program for those who already owned high-powered firearms. Australia had, more or less overnight, rallied to deliver one of the most comprehensive and consistent gun control packages in recorded history, to nearly universal approval.
There have been no further mass killings since the laws took effect.
Inspiration from an Unlikely Place
When I said my beliefs had been challenged lately, I wasn’t kidding. And the most recent challenge came from an unlikely source: a stand-up comedy special on Netflix. Jim Jeffries, an Australian who now calls America home, is particularly outspoken when it comes to gun control. And he’s not throwing around tired talking points or politically-charged sound bites; he knows what he’s talking about.
He rightfully calls on the evidence that Australia is a demonstrably safer place after instituting this ban, and he does it with the showmanship of a professional entertainer.
More than that, he demonstrates an understanding of common sense that seems to be lacking from America’s current discussions on the subject.
Jeffries points out that the Second Amendment is just that: an amendment. It’s an alteration to an already existing document, so to pretend that it and the rest of the Constitution is somehow immutable is to seriously misunderstand the point of the document. It was designed to be organic, to change according to our shifting perspectives.
He also points out how fallacious it is for die-hard gun owners to cling to the empty argument that personal firearms are for “protection.” Your average gun owner in suburbia has no need for high-caliber protection; Joe Six Pack is not nearly as tempting a target as he might like to believe.
Whatever you happen to believe about guns – and hopefully, like me, you’re at least ambivalent on the subject – you’re making an informed decision. We too readily abandon reason for gut reactions and blind grasping after privileges that were never a part of the original Constitution – a document that too many of us seem to want to deify.
The truth is, this argument is driven by personal arguments rather than practical ones. In much the same way that our dependence on oil will continue, in defiance of reason and progress, until we embrace new technologies like electric and driverless cars, so too will the gun control debate continue to distract us on a cultural level until we decide to act together with the common good in mind.
At the end of the day, I’m not saying that Jeffries is 100% right, or that further study isn’t necessary, or even that the evidence wholly supports the theory that fewer guns would mean fewer crimes. All I’m saying is that, so long as comedians are making points that our lawmakers seem not to have considered, we’re as far away from closure on this issue as we could possibly be.
Daniel Faris is a graduate of the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University and a current resident of Harrisburg, PA. If you want to talk politics, you can check out his work at Only Slightly Biased, or you can join his alter ego for discussions about progressive music over at New Music Friday.