Today, not finding much to watch on Netflix (they seem to have more series and fewer movies and keep retreading the same stuff), I stumbled across an 18-minute documentary short from Wendover Productions, “Australia Had a Mass-Shooting Problem. Here’s How it Stopped”.
Australia, with its history and low population density (except on the coasts), certainly facilitated individualism, self-reliance, and self-defense culture. Starting in the mid 1980s, incidents of major shootings increased, culminating in the massacre at Port Arthur, Tasmania, in April 1996.
The end result, after some jockeying with the legal mechanics of Australia’s own federal system, was a very strict gun control law, with a mandatory buyback over one year. Prospective consumers had to demonstrate a “need” to own any firearm at all, and self-defense didn’t count.
Arguably, that kind of logic might work if guns are scarce enough in private hands. In the United States, it hardly sounds feasible at all because of the volume of guns already in circulation. But it is interesting to note that most other western nations have low gun ownership, except outside of the area of conscription for military service (especially Switzerland, where gun competence is a responsibility, and now Finland, which gets interesting).
Australia (along with New Zealand), we know, as an island nation that can keep people out, wasn’t afraid to clamp down on its citizens’ freedom of movement and personal agency with strict lockdowns in 2020 (not quite as bad as China’s recently) to control COVID19 and “save lives” (in the words of Victoria’s “Dictator Dan” Andrews). Remember all the Sky News Australia videos of individuals nabbed by police for minor violations of sheltering in place.
On June 20, 2016 (a week after the Orlando Pulse bar attack – which resulted from radical Islam, not from American alt-right), Jon Stokes authored a piece in the center-left online magazine Vox “Why millions of Americans — including me — own the AR-15”. The basic reason seems to be personal expediencey, because the AR-15 is reliable and very versatile to use (and deadlier if it hits someone). He says it is not automatic (like the M16) unless tampered with.
My father had a 22 rifle in the basement in the 1950s, and I learned to shoot it once. When I returned to my Drogheda in 2003 it was no longer around. In Army Basic in 1968, I trained on the M14, which I learned to take apart and clean, and it was no big deal, and made sharpshooter on record range. I did “requalification” at Fort Eustis in March 1969 and have never fired a weapon since. My right ear developed tinnitus from the exposure during coaching; the ear plugs were inadequate. The M14 would be replaced by the M16 even in Basic, but it had no Drill and Ceremonies manual. The M16 can fire rounds automatically without tampering.
I did not really connect a lot to the Second Amendment during my own style of activism regarding “don’t ask don’t tell” in the 1990s, and I rarely talked about it in my books or essays. I can remember a Libertarian Party weekend in Richmond VA in May 1995 when I was surprised at the amount of focus on it.
However, I understand that for many people, their right to bear arms becomes part of their own sense of identity, which tends to be anti-tribal. I don’t feel that way about this personally, but I can see moral parallels between the Second Amendment (interpreted as an individual right since the controversial Heller case) and my own use of the First Amendment when it is interpreted as incorporating “freedom of reach” despite potential conflicts one can cause. However, compromising the right to defend oneself, like in the case of a home invasion (with family around) or potential exposure to kidnapping (workplace, carjacking, etc) could pose existential risks to persons if there were only an incomplete effort like Australia’s. Note that the video discusses the success of Australia’s buyback in statistical terms.
Let’s mention a couple other films.
At an independent film festival in Minneapolis in 2001 sponsored by IFPMSP when I lived there, I saw a curious thriller: “Bill’s Gun Shop”, from Dangerous Films, directed by Dean Lincoln Hyers, produced by J. Michael Tabor, written by Rob Nilsson, starring Scott Cooper, John Ashton, Victor Rivers, Tom Bower, James Keene, Carolyn Hauck, Sage, Jacy Dummermuth. Again. The independent, locally produced film (this was shot on location in the Twin Cities and in southern Minnesota) imparts an urgency and tension lacking in the glitz and polish from bigger operations (and, again, why does Hollywood have to cover up real companies and real locations when small filmmakers don’t?). In fact, the film has stunning photography (seems wide screen) and a pinpoint digital sound track. And we identify with the 23-year old Dillon McCarty (Scott Cooper), starting out his adult life with a bit of personal schism, between being a mild-mannered (almost impotent) “good guy” and wanting to emulate his movie-star police heroes and marshals. He goes to work for a gun shop and gradually sinks into a rather scary world. (I didn’t know that gun shop employees are expected to wear guns going to and coming from work.) Eventually he goes on a bounty run and has to get himself out of an impossible situation, generating a lot of rooting interest from the audience. This film played to a full house at the Heights Theater, and comes across as a level-headed treatment of guns and self-defense for mainstream Americans (the film also covers racial tensions pointedly), and not just an activity on the rightwing fringe.
On Sunday, June 11, 2022 (Pride Day in many cities), CNN aired a one hour documentary report “Megaphone for Conspiracy” (link), a sketch of Alex Jones, from the founding of his media business in Austin Texas a couple decades ago, to its role during the Trump years, where Jones got banned from most social media. Tim Pool has put Jones on his IRL show and had to collar Jones when in his “Cast Castle”, after having his own fights with YouTube over even having him on. Toward the end of Trump fiasco leading to January 6, 2021, Jones got lost deeper and deeper in his beliefs. He does not depend on sponsors, but seems to sell nutritional supplements enough to make a living at it. I couldn’t do that. He has been litigated against by the Sandy Hook victims. He tried to attack David Hogg after the Parkland shootings, and ran into a teenager who could fight back hard. It’s one thing to be called a crisis actor, but another to be called a centuries old reptilian alien (like from the 80’s series “V”) – as if the teen had superpowers and belonged with Marvel’s “Eternals”. It’s really rather a compliment for Hogg. Fox News’s Laura Ingraham ran into the same thing.
Now, is Hogg the most likely young adult today to become president in the future (if our democracy survives Trumpism, Putinism, and Xi-ism).
(Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2022 at 6:30 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)