GUN SANITY LESSONS LEARNED, OR UNLEARNED? From Australia’s Newtown Community to Newtown, Connecticut

 Backstreet Djeli 5“As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other. You’ve cared for one another. And you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God’s grace, that love will see you through.

But we as a nation, we are left with some hard questions…”  (President Barack Obama, At Sandy Hook Interfaith Prayer Vigil in Newtown, Conn on December 16, 2012)


Despite mankind’s painfully long proclivity for violence and barbaric thirst for war, there seems to always be an occasional hallmark of civilization, along the way, which shakes up our realities, forever impacting us all, no matter your views on race, religion or politics. It seems to me that the recent slaughter of Sandy Hook Elementary School’s 20 children and six staff members, in Newtown, Conn, just 10 days before Christmas (2012), was one of those symbolic times.

Australia’s Nightmare

While the jury is still out on exactly what this avowed “civilized” nation will do in response, it’s interesting to note that some insight might be gained from the aftermath of yet another carnage, some 10,000 miles away, about 20 hours as the crow flies, from an ugly tourist site incident, some 17 years earlier- in Australia.

According to Australian news accounts (The Daily Telegraph, 05/01/1996), this was the “Port Arthur Massacre” and took place at the historic Port Arthur Prison Colony in Tasmania, Australia, in the morning and afternoon hours of April 28, 1996. Archives describe this incident as a “killing spree,” perhaps “one of the deadliest shootings worldwide,” which left 35 dead and 23 wounded, ranging in age from 3 to 72.

Reportedly, this nightmarish bloodbath took place at the Broad Arrow Café, in Port Arthur Bay, after 28-year-old Martin Bryant of Newtown, a suburb of Hobart, finished his meal and returned his tray, then whipped out a “Colt-AR 15” rifle, with an attached scope and 30-round magazine, and began firing from the hip. News archives say that within 15 seconds, he had killed 12 people and wounded 10. It was later learned that he had just earlier killed a couple who owned the nearby “Seascape,” a bed-and-breakfast resort property that his father once attempted to purchase. 

His next stop was the gift shop area where many people, on hearing the earlier shots and commotion, had begun hiding, trapped under tables and shop displays. In less than 2 minutes, Bryant had fired off another 29 rounds. The number killed climbed to 20. Those injured stood at 12. Some escaped through the kitchen, scattering to where cars and tourist buses were parked and began warning others. But, confusion further complicated the chaos with some individuals, thinking it was all connected to an historical reenactment, started moving toward the gunfire, as others ran to hide around buses and cars. By that time, four more were added to the kill.  Six more were injured.

Bryant moved on to the nearby toll booth and a service station, shooting and killing women and children along the way, before returning to the bed-and-breakfast property he had started from. The two police officers, normally stationed nearby, were away responding to a false emergency report. But, a special group of officers arrived later in the evening where an 18-hour standoff took place, since a hostage had been taken.  The next morning, Bryant had started a fire which ignited ammunition explosions. With his clothes on fire, he came running out of the property and was arrested by police. The hostage had been killed.   

During the trial that followed, Bryant was seen laughing hysterically as the judge recited the charges. He was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 35 life-imprisonment terms, plus 1,035 years for the slaughter- never to be released- without possibility of parole. His mental capacity and “intellectual disabilities” were widely debated, yet, he was assessed as fit to stand trial as a “mentally competent adult.” 

On January 16, 2013, in a New York Times Op-Ed (The Opinion Pages, “I Went After Guns… Obama Can, Too,” by John Howard, a contributing writer), John Howard, the former prime minister of Australia, presiding during the “Port Arthur Massacre,” pointed out that beefing up their gun control laws, coupled with installing an intense federally-financed gun buy-back scheme, cut firearm suicides by 74% and reversed gun massacres following the 1996 incident. He said that in the 18 years before the incident, there were 18 massacres (each with more than 4 victims) with 102 deaths. After the incident, following legislation and a ban on “military-style” assault weapons, “There has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996,” according to Howard.

America’s Political Realities

No doubt, there are significant differences between the operational, constitutional and political constraints of Australia’s response to this gun violence and America’s dilly-dallying with the issue.  But, disregarding the trumped up hype and politicized distortions of proposed bans on military style assault weapons, coupled with deliberate misinterpretations of the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment (Bill of Rights section, protecting “the right of the people to keep and bear arms”), it seems that President Obama’s recent proposal (The White House Fact Sheet, January 16, 2013, “Now Is the Time: The President’s Plan to Protect our Children and our Communities…”) is merely another clarion call for a return to reasonable debate, reinforced with his inking of 23 related executive actions. Such debates would hopefully take place within the resurrection of a once-respected, congressional decision making process- snail paced by design- in order to better minimize the likelihood of mass shootings like the ones in Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; Oak Creek, Wisconsin and Tucson, Arizona, as well as reducing gun violence overall.

According to the White House’s plan, essential elements of the proposal included: (1) closing background check loopholes, (2) banning “military-style” assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, (3) making schools safer and (4) increasing access to mental health services.  It does not include plans, like the fake NRA and GOP claims that they’re out “to take your guns” away. The apparent GOP rush to block everything attempted by this nation’s purportedly first African-American president seems to have backed them into another legislative corner, leading to even more rigid distortions of 2nd Amendment Rights.

Regardless of your preference for owning or not owning guns, you would probably think that these proposals were a prudent starting point for debate, given the recent carnage involving many innocent lives, children and adults. Yet, even in the wake of these horrific bloodbaths, it’s the illogical knee-jerk reactions, childish congressional whining and greedy turf-protection antics that seem to hog the political headlines, rather than common-sense collective approaches to solving national dilemmas.

Aloof  Politicians?

Meanwhile, the President of the United States has to darn near beg the American public to take some action to get their elected representatives to get off of their pathetic hindquarters and do something positive about reducing gun violence. But, consistent with crass political greed around the world, our own congressional “bourgeoisie” appear to worry more about protecting their own economic self-interests or stuffing their own pockets, widely tethered to various special interest groups.  They appear to have become increasingly unattached from the realities of America’s hard-working poor and their dwindling “middle class” cousins, while bent on creating mini “fiefdoms” and personal profit-maximization strategies, rather than acting within the fiduciary capacity they’ve been entrusted by the electorate.

And, judging from recent discoveries of the GOP’s surreptitious scampering to rig the Electoral College and the 2016 presidential elections in their favor (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 01/25/2013, “GOP scheme aims to rig presidential elections,”  by Michael Paul Williams), their seemingly phobic-panic disorder and detachment from reality now seems certified, as well as oblivious of this nation’s new demographics, in my opinion.  According to 2010 U.S. Census summary reports, “More than half of the growth in the total population of the United States between 2000 and 2010 was due to the increase in the Hispanic population.” 

Yet, recent national polling data are consistent in suggesting that the GOP seriously needs to find a way to expand their base beyond their white male core of support, otherwise, as GOP strategist, Ed Rollins, even put it, the Republican Party will still be just as “a bunch of old white guys” (“Ed Rollins: GOP Needs To Be Less Old, White And Fat,” The Huffington Post, Melissa Jeltsen, 07/10/2012). You would think that the flip-flopped  electorate demographics between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, during the 2012 presidential election, would provide a hint of things to come, if they don’t get serious about a sincere means of expanding their base.  

Or, Elusive Reasoning?

But, the more pressing issue of the day seems to be how we address the national gun sanity (insanity?) lessons, learned or unlearned, in a manner which fosters responsible debate on both sides of the issue. However, the lack of a seasoned statesman, GOP arrogance, congressional grid-lock and other barriers to consensus decision-making seems to have sapped our nation’s political will, now withering on the vine. But, the way I see it, President Obama and other prudent gun control advocates has merely been suggesting that simple reasoning should dictate our direction on this issue, not more obstruction politics.

If members of congress could humble themselves to applying the simple decision-making tools of the “Reasonable Person” standard (or “Prudent Person” Rule), we just might benefit from the lessons learned within recent mass shooting tragedies. It’s a common law guideline which stems from a community judgment composite for how someone should act, or not act, in situations that pose a threat of harm to the public.  Simply put, the standard says that a duty is owed to act as a “reasonable person” would act under the same or similar circumstances.  

According to Congressional Research data, of the 535 members in the 112th Congress (435 U.S. Representatives, 100 Senators), attorneys make up the largest voting bloc (37% of the House, 60% of the Senate).  Surely, if that many lawyers, already familiar with this “reasonable person” tool, are acting in such a fiduciary capacity for the nation, shouldn’t Congressional productivity (processing and passing bills, etc.), currently zapped by grid-locking activities, be more reasonably vigorous when applied to major issues facing America, today? 

Ask yourself: In the aftermath of the horrific Newtown, Connecticut bloodbath which snuffed out the lives of so many innocent children, is that really such a hard question to answer?

“Backstreet Djeli”  w.d.s.

About William "Duke" Smither (a.k.a., "Backstreet D'jeli")

William "Duke" Smither, author of “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior, in the Shadows of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” is a Frankfort Kentucky native; Richmond Virginia resident. Retired Public Utility Sr. Investigator and nuclear site worker, Married w/ 3 children and 6 grandchildren; U.S. Navy Viet Nam Era & Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran; Member of "Cuban Blockade Survivors" & The American Legion; B.S. Degree (Business Mgmt) w/ independent studies in Ancient African History and African-American History. Post-graduate studies in Criminal Justice Administration. Former Sports & Feature writer for the weekly Richmond Afro-American Newspaper, during Freshman year of college. Retirement activities include: Freelance writer, playwright, actor and director of faith-based community theater productions; founder of "Backstreet's Blog" ("Talking Drum Dialogues") at and former contributing writer for "BlackPast.Org," the international, on-line reference center for African American History. His debut novel, “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior…,” is the first installment of a possible historical-fiction trilogy. A second installment ["Passage(s) to Saint-Domingue...."] is pending completion.