Opinion Columns & Blogs

Barbara Shelly: Australia dealt with gun problem; America in denial

Three bored Oklahoma teenagers have validated Australia’s tough gun-control laws.

Prosecutors in Stephens County say the youths drove up to 23-year-old Christopher Lane, an Australian who was in Oklahoma to play college baseball, and shot Lane in the back while he was jogging.

Totally random. Completely stupid. One of the accused allegedly told police he and his comrades were “bored.”

Senseless gun violence against innocent people is commonplace in the United States. Lane’s murder is very similar to the death of Harry Stone, the Raytown, Mo., man who was shot and killed while jogging on Mother’s Day 2012. Besides isolated murders that appear to be motivated by sheer evil, there is our litany of mass shootings, deaths from shots fired in celebration, accidental shootings, suicides and a host of other ways that people die from gunshots in these United States.

Gun violence is not the norm in Australia, however. Not anymore. It dropped dramatically in the late 1990s after the government, in response to a mass shooting that killed 35 citizens, banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons. The political fallout was fierce, but Australians turned in 700,000 guns for destruction. Since then studies have shown a drop in gun-related homicides of nearly 60 percent, and a 65 percent decrease in gun-related suicides. Though Australia experienced 13 mass shootings in 18 years before the crackdown, there have been none since.

Tim Fischer, an Australian politician who fought for gun control in the 1990s, summed up the numbers when interviewed on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live.”

“Just for the record, Australia has had zero gun massacres since 1996, and in the United States, 80 people are killed by guns every single day,” he said. “So, it is another example of murder and mayhem on Main Street.”

Fischer said he had calculated that people are 15 times more likely to be shot in the United States than in Australia. “People who are thinking of going to the USA on business, vacation, trips, should think carefully about it,” he said.

We can – and assuredly will – argue among ourselves about the values of the accused teenagers, their parenting or lack of it and a possible gang influence in their town. But the murder of Christopher Lane was made possible because it is too easy in America to find a gun.

Arrested are James Francis Edwards Jr., 15; Chancey Allen Luna, 16; and Michael Dewayne Jones, 17. All are too young to own a gun legally, and yet they had one, which will come as no surprise to anybody. It is as simple to get one’s hands on a gun in America as it is to locate a good book.

Abroad, we have the reputation of being a lawless nation. That’s not really accurate. Our system of laws works fairly well once a law is broken. Whoever killed Lane will face justice and likely not see the outside of prison for a very long time, if ever.

But that is surely of little consolation to the family and friends of Lane, who loved playing ball for Oklahoma’s East Central University, had a girlfriend in Duncan and was joyously going about his life. He became an American gun violence statistic because we won’t do anything to reduce the accessibility and acceptability of guns in the United States.

The National Rifle Association’s famous prescription for America’s gun problem is to make sure enough armed “good guys” are around to take out the armed bad guys.

That wouldn’t have helped Chris Lane as he jogged through the streets in a small Oklahoma town. Remember, he was shot in the back.