“Nothing makes me feel more powerful than holding a gun.” My cousin tells my new husband proudly while scrolling through his iPhone gallery of one assault rifle after the next. My husband, who is from Australia and had never before met a person who owned an assault rifle, let alone several of them, shot me a nervous glance. He hadn’t considered the fact that some of those gun-wielding, Second Amendment–loving Americans he’d heard about could be related to me, his left-wing wife.
I couldn’t warn him because I didn’t know either. Every time I discover that one of my family members owns a gun or supports Donald Trump or fears Muslims, my brain reacts in the same way: First I’m shocked, then I’m disappointed. Then I file them away into a separate, scary category in my brain as people I probably won’t call on for future babysitting favors. These are the family members I no longer deem safe. I know it sounds harsh, maybe even judgmental, but I don’t take guns lightly.
I've always been scared of guns. So much of American culture is synonymous with "the right to bear arms" and I've never had much hope that this would ever change. As scared as I was, I simply didn’t believe that my fear mattered. The Second Amendment was permanent, right? Nobody would ever take down the NRA. That would be so . . . un-American.
But over the past couple of years, something's changed in me. After meeting my husband and moving to Australia for a while, where private ownership of semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns, and pump-action shotguns is illegal, I realized just how behind America was when it came to our gun laws.
On April 28, 1996, 28-year-old Martin Bryant went on a shooting spree that ended in the deaths of 35 people in the quiet town of Port Arthur in Tasmania, Australia. Especially significant about this tragedy is that the Australian government immediately took action to tighten gun-control laws in an effort to prevent such a horrifying tragedy from happening again. Led by Prime Minister John Howard, the government bought back more than 600,000 shotguns and rifles equaling about one-fifth of all the country’s firearms in circulation. The new gun laws also prohibited private sales, required that all weapons be individually registered to their owners, and made it mandatory that gun buyers presented a “genuine reason” for needing each weapon at the time of the purchase, not including self-defense.
Their action made a huge difference. No mass shootings in Australia have occurred since.
In the United States, mass shootings seem to occur with increasing frequency. The latest was uncomfortably close to my home in L.A., a San Bernardino massacre that left 14 people killed and 21 wounded. A couple of months before, nine died in Roseburg, Oregon. In July, five died in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Then there were the nine in Charleston, South Carolina, in June, the six in Isla Vista last year, and so on and so forth. Mass shootings have become so commonplace that I catch myself eyeing my fellow movie watchers, mall shoppers, and passengers with suspicion: Can I trust them? Can I trust anyone?
When I told people in Australia about the fears that I had become depressingly accustomed to, they couldn’t help but pity me. Why can’t our government do better? Sure, I didn’t have to marry an Australian or move to Australia to uncover an alternative solution to America’s reckless gun violence. But there’s nothing quite as effective as stepping outside of one's culture to shift worldview and there’s nothing quite as powerful as the belief that things can be different. From this belief stems real action. Whether it’s writing letters to those in power, supporting President Obama's new executive action toward gun control, or electing a new president who supports stricter gun policy, it's not out of our hands.