Friday, February 26, 2010

Disarming Australians

Yesterday, Anna Bligh(t), the Queensland Premier, compared her determination to go through with her government's highly unpopular plans to privatize many state assets to the 'fortitude' displayed by the former Australian PM, John Howard, who, in response to the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, introduced new legislation that placed Australia's gun laws among the most draconian in the western world. In the wake of this, the states quickly followed suit with their own legislation, which further served to 'control' gun ownership. Not that there had been much to control; after all, the possession of 'concealable' guns had been strictly controlled and confined to 'authorities' for as long as I can remember, which is back to the early 1970s.

The merits of Bligh(t)'s claim may be under dispute—she is a person that evidences few personal qualities, but then again, neither did John Howard—but let's suppose that her claim has merit. It is true that resistance from all sides to Howard's gun-control response to the massacre was significant. It is also true that he saw it through nonetheless.

That could be construed as an act of political courage, and maybe it had some aspects of it. But, being suspicious of anything 'beneficial' rolled out by politicians, it occurred to me that his real motive was much more self-serving—and 'state'-serving—than the naive observer tends to perceive. And, of course, in the wake of this, and with suitable irony, Bligh(t)'s comparison suddenly, quite without her intending it, assumes completely new significance. Not a matter of fortitude, but of some twisted selfish motive that still has to become evident. As it will, in due course, but by then it'll be too late; and yet more of Australia will have been sold to foreign interests, who give even less of a damn about 'ordinary people' than do the home-grown large corporations.

To understand what Howard was doing—well, basically he was fulfilling your average politician's wet-dream—we need to go to the US, where currently there's a frenzy of states loosening gun legislation, in anticipation of what the avowedly anti-gun federal administration might do to curb gun possession.

Now, I need to emphasize that I do not support free-for-all gun ownership as it exists in many US states, and I certainly have big issues with the uncontrolled possession of machine guns, serious assault rifles, and the like. But I do believe that 'self defense' is a valid reason for someone to apply for a firearms license, and that it is also a valid reason for buying a gun, and that includes 'concealable' handguns.

Right now, that particular right has been taken away from all Australians. This means—and it does mean it, and this is not some gun-nut's ranting—that anybody disposed toward invading someone else's home uninvited and for the purpose of doing the occupants direct harm, can do so without needing to fear that said occupants can defend themselves in any significant way. He might be wrong in assuming this, of course: if someone came into our place I'd club him with a bokken at the very least; and a bokken, together with the requisite skills on the part of its wielder, is a fearsome weapon that is quite a match for a handgun or shotgun.

But people by and large do not possess these skills, and therefore my argument stands. Most families, small or large, are utterly helpless when it comes to the growing army of home invaders, which is my general term for anything ranging from burglars to sickos, who abduct girls from their bedrooms and leave their corpses in municipal stormwater drains. Bundaberg, Queensland, last week.

In the case I'm referring to, the capability of the home owners to defend themselves wouldn't have made a difference, because they didn't even know it had happened. Or maybe it would have? Would the 19-year old perp have reconsidered his decision if he had been aware that the parents could have caught him and, instead of chasing him away, might have shot him in the ass? Or, to look at it another way, would a family in whose house there is a loaded gun, not be much more aware of the issues involved in securing a home? Because why else would anyone buy a gun, unless they had some awareness that there are secutity issues? It may be a stretch to say that Howard's decisions had led to this girl's death, but it's possible. It surely wasn't an intended consequence, but in the vast scheme of unintended consequences, this may well have been one of them.

The debate about what are legitimate reasons to own a gun is nowhere more vociferous and out in the open than in the US. One of the issues the debate focuses on is whether an individual ought to have the right to do whatever is reasonably required to ensure that said individual and those who are in his or her care can protect themselves against assaults on their welfare. In the US, based on an old tradition reaching back to the days of the nations foundation, the agencies who might commit such assaults need not be other individuals or in general 'criminals', but may include 'authorities'.

And here lies the crux of the issue—and, I suspect—the true motivation of John Howard, as a agent of the 'state'; next to his wanting to look like he was a man of principle, rather than just another opportunist and power-seeker.† For even those opposed to gun ownership—in general or inparticular for the 'self-defense' reason, which would instantly result in an increase in the distribution of guns—must admit that a 'state', no matter whether it is openly totalitarian or nanny-totalitarian and 'democratic', and especially as it begins to make ever greather inroads into people's lives, really doesn't like the idea that it has to deal with an armed populace.

All the reasons why this is so boil down to the state's desire to control the plebs—said 'plebs' being anybody not 'in authority' or 'authorized'. Any 'defense' is to be handled by the police, and never mind if they come too late to help anybody, which is invariably the case when it actually matters. And of course, there's the possibility of some nuts—US examples abound—thinking seriously about using their weapons to practice anti-state activities, which nowadays is lumped under 'terrorism' and we all know there's a 'war on terror' going on. All the excuses the state needs to increase surveillance and control of the population's behavior, and most definitely to even clamp down further on what pathetic remains there are of 'legitimate' gun owners.

My own view is that properly licensed and properly trained people—that would mean a compulsory training course, with exams at the end and a certain minimum of rounds fired at a certified training range, so they end up being better shots than your dangerously under-trained police officer—with no criminal background and subject to a few other criteria, should be perfectly entitled to own guns, concealable or not. In fact, inside a house handguns are far more practical than anything larger and far less dangerous to boot, especially when used wimpy ammo, which has less recoil and penetration power.

I can see that succeeding. NOT! Just think of crack-shot civilians, in contrast to couldn't-hit-a-barn cops. Yeah, like that's ever going to happen.

Instead, anybody owning an illegal gun and being caught using it—even it it's to defend the lives of their family—will be slammed with a compulsory jail sentence and a criminal record.

Makes no sense? It does to someone!

It needs to be noted that Howard's position had great popular support. He was therefore being very politically savvy. And the public got exactly what it deserves: armed criminals and unarmed citizens.

No comments: