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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

On This Day Down Under - April 28: Port Arthur Massacre

I remember that day - and the days following. I was working at a school in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. Another school in the area had a student who had died in the massacre. The other students put flowers next to her locker.

I was about to close the library for my break when two girls asked if they could come in. When I asked why now, one explained, "A friend of ours died in the massacre. We want to read the papers."

I handed them the newspaper to read wherever they wished.

It was horrifying. We don't have anything in our constitution that says we need a militia so we're entitled to bear arms. We don't have militias here and never did, as far as I know. Thank goodness.  This sort of thing happened rarely here, even then. But back then, there were certain semi automatic guns that were legal.

On April 28, twenty years ago, a nut case called Martin Bryant walked into the cafe of a popular tourist spot in Port Arthur, Tasmania, and simply shot everyone in sight. Then he repeated it in the gift shop and the car park. Then he took a car and a hostage and drove off to a house where he held off police and hostage negotiators all night before setting the house on fire and surrendering. The house's owners and the hostage were found dead.

I researched the story in more detail for my book, Crime Time: Australians behaving badly, in which it had a chapter. There are, as usual in this sort of thing, conspiracy theories and claims that because  he has a very low IQ, he couldn't have known what he was doing. However, the evidence was that he had visited the place several days beforehand to check it out, and had carefully measured the sports bag in which he carried his gun. It was decided that he was fit to stand trial, although since then, some suicide attempts in prison, he has been moved to a mental illness unit.

Afterwards, the PM, John Howard, did what, in my opinion, was the only honourable achievement of his career as PM. I'm no fan, believe me, but I was cheering when he worked at making the gun laws much stricter and held a massive gun buyback, supported by the Labor opposition.

Oh, there was a fuss from gun fans, including the husband of a friend of mine, who used to shoot at cats that entered their back yard! (She wrote about it in her church newsletter as a breach of his rights...)There were people who said it would ruin our Olympic shooting chances. There was the usual "but criminals will still get them and we won't be able to defend ourselves!" You can imagine it. I mean, who around here keeps a loaded gun to use on attacking criminals anyway? Even then? We've never had much of a gun culture here. Whatever our problems, we don't have incidents such as the woman with a loaded gun in her shopping trolley being shot by her own toddler! (And who did she imagine was going to attack her in the supermarket anyway?) Those who need them, such as farmers, can still use them - and they know how to use them. Gun clubs are still around. Unfortunately, so are hobby duck shooters. And it wasn't all guns that were banned, only certain types.

We have certainly had a few nasty incidents since then, but not many. There have been none of the regular tragedies to be found elsewhere.

 And let's face it, most of the criminals still using guns use them on each other. I know; I had a lot of reading to do for Crime Time

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