Remarks made by the president during a question and answer session with the CEO of the blogging site Tumblr reveal that he is looking to Australia as an example of how disarmament can work here at home. Speaking of his legacy as president, Obama said:
My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage.
We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens. And it happens now once a week. And it’s a one-day story. There’s no place else like this. A couple of decades ago, Australia had a mass shooting similar to Columbine or Newtown. And Australia just said, well, that's it — we’re not seeing that again. And basically imposed very severe, tough gun laws. And they haven’t had a mass shooting since.
We're also the only developed country on earth with an article of the Constitution that explicitly and unqualifiedly forbids the federal government from infringing on the right to keep and bear arms, Mr. President.
Of course, President Obama has never been one to let the facts stand in the way of a good justification for violating the Bill of Rights, so the story from Down Under deserves a closer look.
In 1996, an Australian man named Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 21 others during an armed rampage at a tourist site in Tasmania. Bryant used two semiautomatic weapons in the attack.
Australian gun laws were already very strict when Bryant committed the Port Arthur massacre. The laws in effect at the time required applicants asking for permission to buy a gun provide a "genuine reason and need for owning, possessing or using a firearm.”
The list of government-approved “genuine reasons” included police and security work, hunting, controlling feral animals, collecting, and target shooting.
Noticeably missing from the Australian statute: personal protection. This omission begs the question of whether the number of victims of the Bryant shooting spree might have been a bit lower had one of those caught in the crosshairs had a means to end the slaughter.
After the election of Prime Minister John Howard in March 1996, the Australian parliament passed the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) which banned all semiautomatic rifles, all semiautomatic shotguns, all pump-action shotguns, and imposed severe limits on the possession of all other weapons.
As part of the systematic disarmament of Australians, the government initiated a forced buyback program aimed at eradicating private ownership of firearms.
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Photo of President Barack Obama speaking at the Tumblr forum at the White House: AP Images