Monday, June 18, 2012

Lessons from the Port Arthur Massacre Ignored by the U.S.

by Sunnyjane

Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia

From 1833 to 1877, Port Arthur was a penal colony located in the island state of Tasmania off the southeastern coast of Australia.  The convict settlement incarcerated the country's most vicious and irredeemable criminals, a virtual Prison of Perdition.  By 1970, however, the area had been restored to an idyllic tourist location with lodging, cafes, and shops that attracted nearly three hundred thousand visitors a year. 

A Perfect Day for a Shooting Spree

On Sunday, April 28, 1996, more than five hundred tourists were spending the lovely Australian autumn day in Port Arthur.  By 1:00 PM, sixty diners and shoppers remained at the Broad Arrow Cafe, some finishing their noon meals, while others were browsing through the adjacent gift shop.  One of the visitors this day calmly ate his lunch, then took an AR15 semi-automatic assault rifle from his sports bag and, with deadly precision, began indiscriminately shooting men, women, and children. Before the bloodbath ended, thirty-five people in Port Arthur were dead and twenty-one were wounded.  At the time, it was the deadliest mass murder in modern history perpetrated by a lone gunman.

The Killer

Twenty-eight-year-old Martin Bryant, rather solitary and mildly retarded with an IQ of 66, set out early on that Sunday morning with malice aforethought.  At one time befriended by a wealthy woman who had mental issues of her own, and who left him over one million dollars in her will, Bryant had no job but a lot of money.  He and his girlfriend of two months lived in a house that he had also inherited from his benefactor.  A police interview after Bryant's arrest shows that he spent upwards of $10,000 on three guns, scopes, and ammunition.

Bryant's victims, other than the people in the Broad Arrow Cafe, included individuals in the car park, random people he met while driving,  people at a service station, and the husband and wife who owned Seascape Cottage, a guest accommodation site. It was at the Seascape that the rampage ended the following day and, it is believed, where it had begun, as police and forensic specialists determined that the couple had been dead for more than twenty-four hours when Bryant was captured.

The Motive 

Martin Bryant's lawyer is the only person who really knows why his client went on a murdering rampage that Sunday morning sixteen years ago.  Speculation on the motive ranges from his anger against the owners of the Seascape Cottage because they purchased the property before his own father could gather the required finances, to his ambition to kill more people than a mass murderer in Scotland six weeks prior.  The Dunblane School Massacre shooter killed sixteen children and one adult before taking is own life.  It was reported at the time that Bryant continually asked police after his arrest, How many people did I kill?

Does motive matter?  No.  Whether depressed, deranged, or depraved, a person who was not even able to obtain a driver's license or a gun license, should not have been able to buy any gun, much less amass a small armory of lethal weapons.

The Reaction

Australians reacted, of course, with shock, horror, and profound grief.  At first, state governments were reluctant to enact stricter gun laws that would severely restrict the availability of firearms.  As in America, the far-right fringe groups tried to use citizen anger to oppose new gun laws.  However, after discovering that the Christian Coalition and U.S. National Rifle Association were supporting the gun lobby, the Government and media cited their support for more restrictive laws, along with the moral outrage of the community, to discredit the gun lobby as extremists.

As a result, under federal government co-ordination, all states and territories of Australia banned and heavily restricted the legal ownership and use of self-loading rifles, self-loading and pump-action shotguns, and heavily tightened controls on their legal use. The government initiated a "buy-back" program where gun owners were paid according to a table of valuations.  Some 643,000 firearms were handed in at a cost of $350 million.  

Media, activists, politicians, and some family members of the Port Arthur victims spoke out in favor of the gun law changes.  Australia today has arguably some of the most restrictive firearms legislation in the world.  While America puts a very conservative estimate of gun ownership at 45%, Australia lists private gun ownership at 5.2%.  It is difficult to ascertain the exact number of guns and gun owners in the U.S. due to the liberal proliferation of private gun shows, where sales and trades are not required to be registered.

Australians Take the Gun Issue Seriously

Last week two Olympic swimmers from Australia, Nick D'Arcy and Kendrick Monk, were in California for the Santa Clara International swim meet.  After the last night of the meet, the two visited a gun shop and posed for photos holding guns in a mocking stance.  A joke, they said, a bit of fun.

The Australian Olympic Committee was not amused.  While the two swimmers will be allowed to go to London and compete in their respective swim meets, they will be sent home immediately afterwards.

End Note

In the United States, the gun violence, and its accompanying rhetoric, continues unabated.

Prayers, memorials, and tears will neither bring back the victims nor prevent the next carnage caused by guns.  If America is ever to stop gun violence and enact a sane national gun control law, it must heed the lessons of the Port Arthur Massacre, and the Australian government's and citizens' reactions to it.  We need citizen outrage, bold media voices, and brave legislators to say, Enough is Enough!


I am extremely grateful to Moseyon, one of Politicalgates' valued Australian friends, for mentioning the Port Arthur Massacre in a comment on one of the recent posts.  I frequently am able to glean an idea for a post from our readers' comments, and for that I am most appreciative.

No comments:

Post a Comment