US would benefit from a gun buyback: Labor MP
THE difference between Australia and the United States is that when a drunken argument escalates here, fists are raised - but when a problem escalates in the US, Americans reach for their guns.
That was the blunt verdict from Federal Labor MP Dr Andrew Leigh after the horrific massacre of 20 young children and six teachers at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, on the weekend.
In his former role as an academic at the Australian National University, Dr Leigh co-authored a paper on the Howard Government gun control reforms after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.
He said the huge gun buyback the Howard Government implemented in 1997 was a crucial step in stopping massacres here and preventing firearm-related suicides.
The buyback led to the destruction of 650,000 firearms around the country, and the removal of semi-automatic weapons from the domestic market.
Dr Leigh said the buyback cut the availability of guns in Australia by about one-third.
He said since the buyback, there had been no massacres on Australian soil and the firearm suicide rate had fallen by about 80%.
"Any similar program in the United States would have to be national - different states and cities have tried similar programs, but they've all failed because Americans can cross the border and buy a gun," Dr Leigh said.
"The crucial success of the gun buyback here was that you're reducing the availability of guns.
"The thing about gun crimes is that they are mostly opportunity related. When two men have a drunken argument on a Friday night here, they might have a fight - but in the US, they will shoot each other."
But while politicians in Australia mostly support the current national gun control laws, the power of the National Rifle Association in the US continues to restrict conservatives from voicing opposition to gun reform.
Dr Leigh said the reality in the US was some 25 people were killed every day, while a further 45 people commit suicide, with a firearm, each day.
And despite President Barack Obama's vocal support of gun reform, any such changes would have trouble getting through the Republican Congress.
President Obama gave a heartfelt speech in Newtown on Sunday night, outlining that if Americans measured the success of their nation by how children were cared for, the nation was failing.
"No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society," he said.
"But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this."
President Obama also said he would be using "whatever power this office holds" to engage the nation in an effort to prevent any more tragedies.
Dr Leigh said the US would definitely benefit from a gun buyback of a similar scale as Australia's - an equivalent program would take more than 40 million firearms off the streets.
But despite the progress made here, he said there was still more to be done, advocating a national register of firearms.
"Currently, we have state registers of firearms, but if someone dies, or moves interstate, they immediately fall off the register, as do the guns," he said.
"This allows guns to enter the illegal market, and I think a national register is the way to go."