In the wake of yet another deadly shooting in the United States, the Australian government has suggested that it could help Washington understand gun law reform by sharing its own experiences.
“What Australia can do is share our experience after the mass killing in Port Arthur back in the late 1990s, when 35 people were killed by a lone gunman,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said during an interview with Australia's Channel 9 television station on Tuesday.
“You will recall that [Prime Minister] John Howard then introduced national gun laws, which banned automatic and semiautomatic weapons and included a national buyback scheme. We have had this experience. We acted with a legislative response.”
“It'll be up to U.S. lawmakers and legislators to deal with this issue,” Bishop concluded.
Australia's experiences with gun law reform have become a frequent point of reference in the ongoing debate about mass shootings in the United States. The 1996 Port Arthur shooting to which Bishop referred resulted in the landmark National Firearms Agreement, which included a ban on and mandatory buyback of semiautomatic assault rifles.
By many measures, Australia's move was a success. In total, more than 650,000 newly outlawed guns were bought back and destroyed by 2001, and there has not been a single mass shooting in the country since the buyback.
However, American critics of the policy contend that it would not work in the United States, largely because of differing laws and gun ownership rates.
The Sunday mass shooting in Las Vegas, which left 59 dead and hundreds injured and is the deadliest in modern U.S. history, has prompted renewed debate about Australia's gun laws — both in the United States and in Australia.
Bill Shorten, leader of the Australian opposition, went further than Bishop in his comments praising his country's gun laws.
“Thank God for our gun laws and heaven help anyone who wants to weaken these gun laws, because they will have to come through me and the Labor Party,” Shorten said Tuesday, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, referring to the party he leads. “There [are] a lot of very good things about America, but we don't want their gun laws.”
Other Australian politicians offered similar sentiments. “We must be doing something right and the U.S. must be doing something massively wrong,” Tim Fischer, who was deputy prime minister when Australia's gun-control measures were introduced, told Sky News on Tuesday. President Trump needs to “get real” about gun violence, Fischer added.
The acting U.S. ambassador to Australia also praised its gun laws. “Every time one of these things happens, U.S. analysts always point to what happened in Australia and point out that your murder rate with guns has gone down drastically,” Jim Carouso, a career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service, said at an event on Tuesday.
It is unclear, however, whether the U.S. government is interested in Australia's advice. Bishop told the Seven Network that she had spoken to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but she did not divulge what he said.
“What we can offer is our experience,” Bishop told the television network. “But at the end of the day, it's going to be up to the United States legislators and lawmakers, and the United States public, to change the laws to ensure this type of incident doesn't happen again.”
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