Assessment Opinion

Parkland Shooting: What Can We Learn from Abroad?

By Heather Singmaster — March 19, 2018 4 min read
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If you are looking for students who exemplify the “take-action” aspect of global competence, look no further than the survivors of the Parkland shooting. Not only have they been acting locally and nationally, they recently took their message to the world at the Dubai Global Education and Skills Forum. One of the survivors, Sam Zeif, has brought up the example of Australia as one that the U.S. should look to as an example. To learn more, I interviewed The Honorable Kevin Rudd, 26th Prime Minister of Australia and President of the Asia Society Policy Institute, New York.

In 1996, there was a shooting in Australia that killed 35 people. The government immediately took action, with national consensus, to enact gun-safety measures including: a gun buy-back program, banning of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and a 28-day waiting period. Australians are often perceived (at least by Americans!) as being outdoorsy, tough, and independent—how did gun reform go over so quickly there?

When we had a terrible mass shooting at a tourist attraction on the island of Tasmania in 1996 in which 35 people were killed, suddenly the whole Australian nation was confronted with the question of stricter gun control. Shortly afterwards, my conservative predecessor, Prime Minister Howard, enacted legislation to ban all automatic and semiautomatic weapons in Australia and set up a gun buyback scheme. He had bipartisan support at the federal and state levels in Australia, and even the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA), our equivalent of the NRA, got behind it. The fact is that there was a recognition that our gun laws needed to change to prevent something like this occurring again in the future, and our political leaders had the guts to do something about it. We have not had a mass shooting in Australia since.

There is a certain percentage of the U.S. population who won’t give an inch, in any direction, on guns. What is your suggestion for working with that population.

I grew up on a farm in rural Australia and my father had a shotgun to deal with wild animals around the place. In my home state of Queensland (which is nearly three times the size of Texas), two-thirds of the population live outside of cities. Contrary to what most people in the US might believe, there is sort of a gun culture in Australia in the sense that people often need a rifle on their farm to protect their stock from being ripped to pieces. We do have some of the most dangerous and poisonous creatures in the world, after all! But if you ask your average farmer or average sporting shooter in Australia whether they need a semiautomatic weapon, they would think you were just nuts.

I’ve lived in the United States for more than 3 years, and I love this country. That’s why I came to live here and decided to stay. But there is nowhere else in the world where you have a domestic justification for anyone to have a semiautomatic weapon. I understand the interests of gun owners, and I’m a keen student of the revolutionary war and fully versed in the content and historical context of the Second Amendment. But frankly, I cannot see the rationale for anyone outside of the military being able to go into a store to purchase a semiautomatic weapon. I believe gun-law reform is at its most fundamental level a question of political leadership. And you do not have that political leadership in the United States at the moment.

Why do you think the US has had so little traction on gun-related legislation? Do you think the actions of the Parkland students will result in real change?

During my time in the United States, I’ve seen one incident come after the other, and I often get the sense that America suffers from a national “learned helplessness” about what can be done. I think this is fundamentally the wrong way to approach the issue. You can change your laws, and I find it hard to believe that the Supreme Court bench in Washington, DC, for example, would defend the right of anyone to possess a semiautomatic weapon because of the Second Amendment.

What we have seen since Parkland, and what I personally find very inspiring, is the courage of the students involved and other young people around the country. These kids are making their voices heard loud and clear, and saying to the politicians that, while they might not have the guts to stand up to this, it is our lives that are at risk, and we want to bring about change. That spirit is something to encourage and support. The biggest gun retailers in America are starting to make some changes, which is encouraging. But we need more than that. I hope lawmakers around the country listen to the voices of those kids and actually do something to bring about a shift in state and federal laws.

Connect with Mr. Rudd, ASPI, Heather, the Center for Global Education, and Asia Society on Twitter.

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