Editorial: Loony laws put a gun in his hand

from page 10 of The Daily Telegraph, May 1, 1996

by Mike Gibson

  It has long been the practice of people in this country -- of poeple all over the world, in fact -- to laugh at some of the laws in parts of the United States.
  Bizarre. Wacky. Unbelievable. Only in America, you hear them say.
  But imagine, if you can, a state in America's deep south where homosexuality is illegal, but a schizophrenic can go out and buy himself a semi-automatic rifle.
  No, it's not redneck country, USA. No, it's not some backwoods outpost where good old boys full of moonshine still call the shots.
  It's Tasmania. Australia's Apple Isle. The sleepy little backwater where the tourists go for their coach tours, where the locals refer to the rest of Australia as "the mainland."
  Sure, it doesn't happen, but the laws of Tasmania are such that homosexuals, even consenting adults who indulge in private, can be locked in jail for 21 years.
  But sure, it does happen. Sure, the world has just recoiled in shock and horror, as a man with a history of mental disturbance took his Armalite AR-15 semi-automatic, and perpetrated the most bloody single-handed series of slayings in recent history.
  At a time of such sadness, you might ask why should I mention the absurdity of Tasmania's laws? What has the state's attitude to homosexuality got to do with the appalling massacre we have just witnessed?
  In point of fact, there is no connection.
  And yet the madness of it all keeps running through my head.
  If we were talking about somewhere else, as I said, some crazy state in America, Australians would throw up their hands in disbelief.
  But we're talking about Australia. We're talking about our own loony legislation, our own crackpot set of laws, our own horror story, and we should have yelled and shouted about it a lot louder and a lot longer that we did, so that maybe the slaughter of 35 innocent souls by Martin Bryant would never have happened.
  Okay, so a crazy man can always go berserk. There's no knowing when his brain might boil over.
  But he's not going to go out on a Sunday afternoon and kill 35 people with a knife or club. Or, for that matter, even an old .22.
  He might kill 35 people with a couple of semi-automatic rifles. In fact, he just did.
  Allow a man with a history of mental disturbance to purchase a semi-automatic weapon, and you are orchestrating a nightmare.
  You may as well allow Mike Tyson to climb into the ring with a crowbar in each hand. You're setting a time bomb, and just waiting for it to go off.
  The Waco massacre. The bombing in Oklahoma. The Hizbollah terrorists. The slaughter of the children in Dunblane.
  We sit back in our lounge rooms and shake our heads each night at the lunacy overseas. We prefer to erase from our minds the horrors of Hoddle St, Queen St and Strathfield, as we tell ourselves how lucky we are that these things don't happen out here.
  But the satellite keeps pumping it through.
  As we embrace the fads and the fashions from overseas, as the kids adopt the latest lingo and wear their baseball caps back to front, so the tormented and the enraged can feed off the bloody images, the terror and the carnage, the grotesque obscenities that are beamed to us almost as they happen.
  Your daughter might hae been inspired to try to emulate the look of her favourite supermodel.
  As the head of the FBI's Threat Assessment Group, Dr Park Dietz, told us yesterday, Martin Bryant was probably inspired by the black deeds of William Hamilton, the man who gunned down the schoolchildren in Dunblane.
  Who knows if some angry loner with a twisted mind is sitting in a room right now, ready to explode, as he feeds off the madness of Martin Bryant.
  As the world becomes a place of increasing torment and stress, as facilities are stretched beyond their limits trying to cope with those who seethe from within, there will continue to be people whose brains burst, who express their hatred and their rage by going out and committing acts of mindless violence.
  One way that we can avert these acts of insanity, at least on a mass scale, is to make it as difficult as humanly possible, for a deranged person to get hold of a highly lethal weapon that was only designed to be used in a war.
  I hesitate to return to the same point. But, damn it, as I said, the tragic absurdity of it all keeps running through my head.
  If the politicians of Tasmania had been as concerned about the sale of semi-automatic weapons as they were about whether grown men were sleeping together, the massacre at Port Arthur may never have occured.

[image: "Three relatives arrive at hospital to visit a victim yesterday" (9x10.5) ]

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