Friday, April 26, 2013

‘The Daily Show’ compares gun control in US and Australia

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Nothing brings the US’s struggles with adopting even the most rudimentary gun safety measures into perspective better than taking a gander at other countries that have already enacted sensible gun control. Here’s a very revealing three-part series from The Daily Show where John Oliver heads goes Down Under for one heck of a study in contrasts, both societal and political:

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VIDEO 1/3: “Gun Control Whoop-de-doo” [@ 04/18/13]

JON STEWART: Welcome back! For more on the gun debate, we bring you the first part of a three-part series with John Oliver.

JOHN OLIVER (V.O.): Yesterday, Americans watched in shock as even watered-down gun legislation died on the floor of the Senate. But that is exactly where it belongs, according to gun lobbyists like Philip Van Cleave of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

PHILIP VAN CLEAVE: The Second Amendment is sacrosanct.

OLIVER: [hands Van Cleave “2nd AMENDMENT” stop sign] You hold up this sign whenever I make a suggestion that you think is infringing upon your Second Amendment rights, okay?


OLIVER: Assault weapons ban?

Van Cleave raises the sign.

OLIVER: Boom, there it is. Increased background checks?

Van Cleave raises the sign.

OLIVER: Really?


OLIVER: Just for background checks?

VAN CLEAVE: We don’t do background checks for the First Amendment.

OLIVER: Okay, so let’s just try this one. Nice and easy. A mandatory one-hour waiting period if you buy a gun?

Van Cleave hesitates briefly, then raises the sign.

VAN CLEAVE: Why a mandatory –?

OLIVER: Are you [fucking] kidding me?

VAN CLEAVE: Unless I can see a reason, no. I can’t think of anything that I support. Because at the end of the day, none of it works.

OLIVER (V.O.): Exactly. Gun control does not work.

OLIVER: What if – hypothetically speaking – what if gun control could work? Which obviously it can’t, so we know that it won’t, so that’s not a problem. But what if it could, due to that time that it did?

VAN CLEAVE: Okay, when was that?

OLIVER: Australia.

OLIVER (V.O.): Yes, Australia. In 1996, a conservative prime minister, John Howard, instituted sweeping gun control laws following a mass shooting that shocked the nation. So, should we be learning from this effective example? Of course not.

VAN CLEAVE: I guess if we’re gonna go to Planet X and say it’s not the United States, it’s some other planet, different people, different everything – yeah – but in the real world, with human beings, it’s not gonna work. Gun control isn’t gonna work.

OLIVER (V.O.): Unfortunately, not only is Australia in the real world, even their animals can holster weapons. So, who was right about gun control? There was only one way to find out: confront the man responsible.

OLIVER: Mr. Prime Minister, let’s begin in the formal Australian way: G’day.


OLIVER: Obviously, gun control doesn’t work, it can’t work, it will never work. So, how was your scheme a failure?

HOWARD: My scheme was not a failure. We had a massacre in a place called Port Arthur seventeen years ago, and there have been none since.

OLIVER (V.O.): Zero gun massacres? Hold on. Did gun control actually work?

VAN CLEAVE: It stopped one thing! That can also be a statistical anomaly.

OLIVER: Yeah. It was just their mass shootings that disappeared.

VAN CLEAVE: But there was so few of them! Whoop-de-doo!

OLIVER: [incredulous] “Whoop-de-doo”?


OLIVER: “Whoop-de-doo”?

VAN CLEAVE: Yes. Mass shootings are rare, anyhow.

OLIVER (V.O.): Exactly. They probably barely had a massacre before 1996!

HOWARD: There were about 13 in the previous 18 years.

OLIVER: [to Van Cleave] In the 18 years before Port Arthur, there were 13 mass shootings. Almost one a year.

VAN CLEAVE: I was unaware they had that many. “Mass” being, what, more than two people at a time?

OLIVER: More than four.

VAN CLEAVE: More than four. Okay.

OLIVER: “Whoop-de-doo”!

OLIVER (V.O.): But perhaps there were other, non-whoop-de-doo side-effects.

HOWARD: The homicide rate involving the use of guns have declined significantly by factors of up to 50 and 60%, and the incidence of [?youth?] suicides involving the use of guns declined dramatically.

OLIVER: Whoop-de-[fucking]-do.

OLIVER (V.O.): Help me out here, Philip.

OLIVER: Homicides with guns went down. Suicides with guns also went down. Zero mass shootings.

VAN CLEAVE: Australia still has murders, rapes and robberies last time I checked.

OLIVER: Unless you can get rid of 100% of crime, it’s not worth doing at all?

VAN CLEAVE: Well, put it this way. It’s illegal to have crack cocaine anywhere in the United States. You think that if someone really wants it, they can get their hands on crack cocaine in America?

OLIVER: So, unless we can completely get rid of drugs, there’s no point in having drug laws at all?

VAN CLEAVE: [awkward pause; sighs] Let me think about that for a minute. [shorter pause] Well, I guess – effectively, it doesn’t work!

OLIVER (V.O.): You can’t argue with Philip; even his logic is bullet-proof.

VAN CLEAVE: Well, lemme put it to you this way. There are more drownings in backyards where they have pools. They don’t have a pool, there are no drownings in backyards. So, the US has a very high number of guns. Therefore, there is[sic] going to be more chances for somebody to be killed with a gun.

OLIVER: Right.


OLIVER: Right. That’s my point.

OLIVER (V.O.): Philip might think that living in a society with dramatically reduced gun violence is a “whoop-de-doo”, and people in Australia couldn’t agree with him more.

MONTAGE: Several Australians repeat “whoop-de-doo!”; Oliver is hoisted up by pub clients and shouts “WHOOP-DE-[FUCKING]-DOO!”

STEWART: John Oliver. We’ll be right back.

VIDEO 2/3: “Gun Control & Political Suicide” [@ 04/23/13]

STEWART: Welcome back! Last week, we learned that while our United States Senate was unable to pass even the most basic gun control measures, Australia has had a successful gun control scheme for almost two decades. John Oliver visited our cousins from across a couple of ponds to find out more in part two of our three-part series.

OLIVER (V.O.): In 1996, following a massacre, Australia’s conservative government enforced a national buyback of semiautomatic weapons while also heavily regulating the purchase and storage of other firearms. The result was dramatically reduced levels of gun violence. So, why can’t we do that here? To find out, I sat down with long-time aide to Harry Reid, Jim Manley.

JIM MANLEY: The NRA is still a very powerful force in this country. They have four million members who are very, very determined to get their way.

OLIVER: And how can a nation of 300 million compete with that?

MANLEY: It’s difficult to understand sometimes, isn’t it? But the fact of the matter is that you’ve got to think long and hard before you support gun control legislation because taking on the NRA can be political suicide.

OLIVER (V.O.): And the Democratic Party is working tirelessly to reduce the rate of political suicide among its members. Surely, Australian politicians weren’t stupid enough to end their political lives for gun control?




OLIVER: You did what?

BORBIDGE: I took the stand. I was prepared to face the political consequences, and we delivered gun control.

OLIVER (V.O.): Meet Rob Borbidge, former Premier of Queensland, Australia’s most conservative state. In 1996, he was instrumental in enacting gun control, knowing it would cost him his political career in the next election.

BORBIDGE: We paid a high political price, but we did the right thing.

Oliver looks shocked.

BORBIDGE: Look, there are Australians alive today because we took that action. I mean, how much is a life worth?

OLIVER (V.O.): But Jim Manley knows that a true public servant has more important concerns.

OLIVER: What makes a politician successful?

MANLEY: Getting reelected by his or her constituents.

OLIVER: [stunned] Right. Yeah. That’s how you judge success.

MANLEY: [flustered] Okay, that’s – well, getting legislation done.

OLIVER: – Is second.

MANLEY: Is second, yeah.

OLIVER: So that is second? Holy [shit], that is second?

MANLEY: Uh … If I could rewind this tape, I’d say that getting legislation done, and getting reelected by your constituents.

OLIVER: But seeing as we can’t rewind the tape, let’s just go with the answer you gave on instinct.

MANLEY: You don’t get you reelected, you’re just roadkill in the political process. You’re just another loser.

OLIVER (V.O.): Tragically, not everyone understands this.

OLIVER: [to Borbidge] What makes a politician successful? Go.

BORBIDGE: Making society a better place.

OLIVER: No, no, no, Rob. No. Look, we can, um – we can actually rewind the tape. We rolling? What makes a politician successful?

BORBIDGE: It’s your responsibility to govern in the best interest of the people that you serve.

OLIVER: Right – Rob – I mean, I’m going out on a limb, here, I’ve already told someone else that I can’t do this.

BORBIDGE: I hope you’ve got a lot of tape.

OLIVER (V.O.): True success is a lifelong politician like Harry Reid, whose watered-down gun legislation was carefully designed to protect those who needed it most.

MANLEY: He has a responsibility as a Democratic to protect the caucus.

OLIVER: Right, the caucus needs to be protected. The caucus does.

MANLEY: They need to be protected politically.

OLIVER: How many political careers have been tragically ended by gun control?

MANLEY: We’ve lost some good folks over the years because of their view.

OLIVER: Right, you have a perfectly healthy political career, and then – [snaps fingers] bang.

MANLEY: Just like that.

OLIVER (V.O.): Which means former Australian Prime Minister John Howard has blood on his hands.

OLIVER: [to Howard] Do you ever think about the innocent victims of your gun control?

HOWARD: There were no innocent victims of mine – there were no victims at all.

Oliver shows a photo of Rob Borbidge.

HOWARD: Yeah, that’s a photograph of Rob Borbidge. He was incredibly courageous, politically, in supporting our laws.

OLIVER: But politically, he’s dead. Bang. [snaps fingers] Just like that.

HOWARD: Well, he lost an election. We all do at some point.

OLIVER (V.O.): But Howard is not alone. His Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fisher, also refuses to accept responsibility for these career massacres.

OLIVER: So, you don’t look at these faces – [holds up photographs of four defeated politicians, including Borbidge] – and feel guilt?


OLIVER: They’re dead. They’re politically dead.

FISHER: I hope that those who totally veto any move to bring sensible semiautomatic and automatic weapons control to the suburbs of America are also politically dead, but physically alive.

Oliver builds a small public shrine with photos of several defeated politicians.

OLIVER (V.O.): Not if I could help it. Never again will a political career end in a senseless act of meaningful legislation.

MAN ON STREET: What is it commemorating?

OLIVER: It’s just, all of these – all of them are dead, politically.


OLIVER: Not physically. Physically, they’re probably safer than they’ve ever been before.

ELDERLY LADY: The world’s a very dicey thing.

OLIVER: I mean, again, just to reiterate: Physically, they’re absolutely fine.

OLIVER: [to man on street] Really makes you think.

MAN ON STREET: Sure does.

OLIVER (V.O.): Unfortunately, what spending time with several of Australian politicians made me think about was how horribly wrong we have it in America.

OLIVER: [shaking hands with Borbidge] Thanks for speaking with me, Rob.

BORBIDGE: Pleasure.

OLIVER: You are a great human being.

BORBIDGE: Thank you.

OLIVER: It’s just, by all American standards, you are a [shitty] politician, and the fact that that is true is why I am now – [gets up in exasperation] – going to walk into the [fucking] ocean.

OLIVER (V.O.): In America, we’re told gun control is not possible. But in Australia, they’ve shown it is, providing a fantastic lesson for America to ignore.

STEWART: John Oliver. We’ll be right back.

VIDEO 3/3: “Australia & Gun Control's Aftermath” [@ 04/25/13]

STEWART: Welcome back! We continue tonight our series from Australia. John Oliver learned that following a mass shooting in Australia, the country introduced gun control and it worked. So, how can America take this valuable lesson and ignore it? John Oliver finds out in this, our final installment.

OLIVER (V.O.): Previously, I went to Australia, where I learned that in 1996, their government enacted sweeping gun control laws. The result? Reduced gun violence and zero mass shootings. So, are there any lessons for America, here? Virginia gun advocate Philip Van Cleave has a clear answer.

VAN CLEAVE: We’re not Australia. It’s a very different culture. Different people, different everything.

OLIVER: Right, there’s no similarity with Australia. Australia is a former British colony with a wild frontier that was tamed by brave men who also wiped out almost an entire indigenous population, and we are … [pauses] … not similar to that … right?


OLIVER (V.O.): Right, because unlike Australia, we Americans know when the guns are taken away, tyranny inevitably follows.

VAN CLEAVE: The Founding Fathers knew that governments tend to grow beyond their means. In America, we’re stepping in the direction of a police state.

OLIVER: Is that really happening, Philip, or is that some kind of crazy paranoia?

VAN CLEAVE: We have police, they’re now wearing ninja suits, if you will, and you don’t even know they’re police, necessarily, the black masks on and everything.

OLIVER: So, it really isn’t crazy paranoia; you’re justifiably frightened about ninja police.

VAN CLEAVE: Ninja police, yes.

OLIVER: Yeah. Ninja police.


OLIVER (V.O.): Sadly, without access to semiautomatic firearms, Australians wouldn’t know a thing about real freedom.

AUSTRALIAN WOMEN: Bloody [?], we’re free! We’re just sitting here doing whatever we want, everybody’s just hanging out and having a good time.

MAN IN WETSUIT: People don’t have the same concerns anymore about getting gunned down when they’re in a tourist resort.

OLIVER; Yeah, but was that worth it?


OLIVER: [to woman on beach] Was it worth giving up your fundamental freedoms just to not get shot in a gun massacre?

WOMAN: [amused] What the [fuck] are you talking about?

OLIVER (V.O.): Australians must now live in this well-regulated nightmare because of ex-politicians like Rob Borbidge, who smugly thinks that his country has something to teach us.

BORBIDGE: I hope that they would have a look at what has happened here.

OLIVER: Why would people want to live like this?

BORBIDGE: Because they might want a safer society to live in.

OLIVER (V.O.): But it’s pointless for us to study the Australian experience, because their fear of gun control back then has no parallels with ours.

OLIVER: What kind of things were you hearing when you suggested gun control?

BORBIDGE: That government was becoming a dictatorship …

OLIVER: Right, that’s one.

BORBIDGE: We were told that people would not have the right to defend their property and their families.

OLIVER: Okay, that’s definitely two.

BORBIDGE: That democracy is at stake somehow if government decides there should be a background check.

OLIVER: Yeah, all right, that’s three.

BORBIDGE: That we’re about to be invaded by the Indonesians.

OLIVER: That’s completely different. No-one in America is afraid of Indonesians. Are they afraid of Mexicans and Muslims coming? Maybe.

OLIVER (V.O.): Sure, he claims Australians were angry, but where is the proof?

MONTAGE: Anti-gun control protestors in 1996

WOMAN: People’s rights are being taken away from them.

SPEAKER: And I’m not gonna give up any guns if they gonna take off me. Are you gonna give yours up?

The crowd reacts: “No!”

OLIVER (V.O.): Okay, there it is. But how did those angry rural conservatives feel now?

MAN: My immediate reaction was an overreaction. But, as time went on, the regulations were quite manageable.

OLIVER: So – hold on. You didn’t want to give up your high-powered gun?

MAN: No. But … I felt as if I had a bit of a duty to the rest of our society.

OLIVER (V.O.): And if you think that sounds bat[shit] crazy, this effective gun control was enacted by conservative politicians against the will of their own base.

HOWARD: [addressing angry crowd, 1996] There is no other way – there is no other way.

OLIVER (V.O.): But our politicians are different. They know that …

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Gun control doesn’t work.

… or even if it does …

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): It takes a long time.

… and to be fair, Jon Howard and his Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fisher, have had since 1996 to enact their sweeping reforms.

FISHER: It took less than three-and-a-half months.

OLIVER: [shocked] What? What?

FISHER: Port Arthur massacre was on the 28th of April 1996. In a 12-week period shortly following that, bulk of legislation was devised, drafted, debated and implemented.

OLIVER: [breaking down] But … but it doesn’t work.

FISHER: Zero massacres since 1996.

OLIVER: [leaving] You keep saying that, but gun control doesn’t work, so …

OLIVER (V.O.): My head was spinning. I had to clear it the traditional Aussie way.


No, not that way. A walkabout.

MONTAGE: Oliver roams the Australian wilderness, jumping around and freaking out, while interview snippets are heard (“The Second Amendment is sacrosanct”, “zero massacres since 1996”, Charlton Heston’s “From my cold dead hands!”, etc.). Oliver sheds his clothes, the remaining ones turn shredded; he meets someone in a kangaroo costume; he treks the Outback like an Indigenous man, “training” to fight with a staff. He eventually wakes up on some train tracks.

OLIVER (V.O.): After three days in the bush with a guy in a kangaroo suit, it became clear what the real issue with gun control in America is.

OLIVER: [to Van Cleave] If guns aren’t the problem, Philip, what is the problem?


OLIVER: People are the problem?


OLIVER: Do you know what? After spending this amount of time with you, Philip, I’m starting to believe that that’s partially true.



VAN CLEAVE: I’m glad you understand that people are the problem.

OLIVER: That is becoming just painfully obvious.

OLIVER (V.O.): After investigating the issue on opposite sides of the Earth, I discovered that if Americans really do want gun control, there is actually one thing they can do to get it: move to Australia.

STEWART: John Oliver! We’ll be right back.

It’s no wonder the rabid US gun lobby can’t seem to form any rational argument. There simply isn’t any evidence they can use in support of their inherently indefensible positions, contra the mountains of evidence against them.

There are a few little things that nagged me throughout the video, though. Oliver’s point about contrasting US and Australian histories isn’t really valid; we’re talking about the modern effects of modern policies on modern society, and regardless of shared similarities between the two nations’ histories, modern attitudes towards guns and related legislation truly don’t match up. Hence why the US’s rampant gun culture makes it all but impossible to institute the sort of gun control that Australia (among others) currently benefits from.

It was also disappointing to see Van Cleave’s point about police militarization swept aside and ridiculed, even given how very, very clumsily he made it. (“Ninja police”? Really?) No objective observer can look at the increasing rates of warrantless and no-knock paramilitary raids (often for offenses as trivial pot possession) and the growing civil police use of military hardware and weaponry thanks to the Pentagon’s 1033 program (which was only recently curbed, and only temporarily), not to mention the increasingly commonplace facts like unconstitutional wiretaps and other civil liberties violations, and not conclude that the United States has decidedly started down a dark path in recent decades. While it’s still premature to dub the country a “police state” by any metric, dismissing concerns about its growing civil use of paramilitary force is foolish bordering on dangerous.

Van Cleave also made a point about people being the problem, and while he was typically gormless about it, he was right to infer (as I presume he meant to) that guns are merely tools to be used by people who may or may not have illicit intentions for them. But this doesn’t change anything, and it only undercuts his own argument. Even while firearms aren’t inherently dangerous on their own, it still makes sense to pass regulations and reforms intended to keep them out of the hands of those who would use them for dangerous ends. Controlling which people can use which guns in which circumstances can only lead to fewer criminal acts with said guns down the line, all the while maintaining the general population’s Second Amendment right to self-defense.

Ultimately, there is no contradiction between reasonable gun control and the right to bear arms, no matter what the gun nuts love to holler. They are simply, plainly, factually and (increasingly so) obviously wrong. I believe it’s only a matter of time before the increasingly marginalized pro-gun lobby starts losing its sleeper hold on the US political debate and some slivers of sense are allowed to slip through.

EDIT: 04/27/13 12:38 AM ET – Fixed some minor transcript errors.