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So I write this letter to you, the survivors, as you prepare to “March For Our Lives” in Washington DC today, to encourage you to maintain your rage; to stand with you; to tell you that gun control can work, as it has worked here in Australia.
But, this is not a letter from the other side of the world written with self-righteous arrogance; it is from a schoolboy who shares your hopes for change, but also your fears, as I watch with alarm while our current crop of politicians dilute Australia’s stringent gun laws.
But first, proof that gun control can work.
In 1996 at Port Arthur, an Australian town once known for its history and tourism, became synonymous with bloodshed and death. Children, mothers, fathers ran in desperation as the rapid fire of a semi-automatic weapon turned an angry ordinary man into a marksman, who hunted and killed 35 strangers.
Our politicians resolved to change things; to put lives ahead of money; ahead of special interest groups; ahead of their political survival. That rare breed of politician, led by then prime minister John Howard, stared down the gun lobby and introduced far-ranging national gun controls.
Our state premiers, similar to your governors, were asked to support him by putting the safety of Australians before political futures. Robert Borbidge, who was the premier of our most conservative state, Queensland, knew that in voting for these gun laws he would be ending his political career. His integrity and determination to do what was right cost him his job at the next election, but it saved lives.
Since then, there have been zero – that’s right, zero – mass shootings in Australia. Please don’t let anyone from the NRA tell you that Australia is a “special case” or that prior to Port Arthur there were no massacres. Before the National Firearms Agreement, there had been a mass shooting (defined as four or more victims) every year for the preceding 13 years. Gun control works.
But, as I said earlier, this letter is not written with self-righteousness; it is filled with foreboding.
In the last 20 years, according to a 2017 report by Sydney University, every Australian state has weakened its firearms legislation. Those hard-fought laws that most Australians believe are set in stone, including restrictions on semi-automatic weapons, have been watered down by today’s politicians. These politicians are betraying our futures, our freedoms and inviting mass killing.
It is for this reason that I am writing to the next generation of leaders, encouraging you to build and maintain the rage against political self-interest, complacency and lies – or as Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland survivor so eloquently described it, their “BS”.
The time is now for students around the world to stand together; to demand laws that prevent the deaths of our friends, our families, our fellow students; to demand our right to go to school and to expect to come home; to demand our right to grow into adults and into better leaders; to demand that those elected serve and protect us.
In America, your politicians hide behind your Second Amendment rights. In Australia, they use back-room deals and late night parliamentary sessions to weaken our laws.
The questions are few and simple: what is more important, Second Amendment rights, written more than 230 years ago, or the right to life in America? In Australia, are the lives of citizens more important than political careers? Those questions are not rhetorical. And that is a terrifying truth.
Jason Cleary-Gorton is in year 12 at St Andrew’s Cathedral School, Sydney.