Australia's strict gun laws are at the center of Monday's deadly hostage siege in Sydney, at least in the minds of American gun-rights advocates.
The suspected gunman, who was holding people hostage inside a downtown Sydney cafe, was reportedly killed during a police raid early Tuesday morning, local time, following a 16-hour standoff. Two hostages died during the confrontation with police.
It’s unclear how the suspected gunman, identified by police as Man Haron Monis, obtained his shotgun, given his extensive criminal background and Australia’s tight gun laws. But some supporters of looser gun laws in the U.S. suggested that if Australians were legally permitted to carry firearms, the hostage situation could have been averted altogether.
“I do think it’s a wakeup call for them," Erich Pratt, communications director of Gun Owners of America, said in an interview. “I do think it’s certainly of note that the shooting was halted when good guys with guns showed up.”
“Preventing people from possessing firearms or carrying firearms isn’t going to stop bad guys, like this guy in Sydney, from breaking the law," he added. "They’re going to break the law anyway. The question is are they going to allow the first responders — the potential victims — to protect themselves and diffuse the situation?”
The issue received attention on CNN Monday morning, when host Chris Cuomo asked Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), an outspoken gun-control supporter, whether the Sydney siege made him "change what you think you can achieve with gun control."
In 1996, Australia passed a set of strict new gun laws in response to a mass shooting that left 35 people dead. Semi-automatic rifles and shotguns are banned (with a few exceptions), and a mandatory national buyback of outlawed guns resulted in over 700,000 firearms being turned over to authorities. Criminal background checks are required on all gun sales and purchasers are subject to a 28-day waiting period. Australians must demonstrate a "genuine reason" to own a gun, and self-defense is not one of them.
This file photo taken on September 8, 1996 shows Norm Legg, a project supervisor with a local security firm, holding up an armalite rifle which is similar to the one used in the Port Arthur massacre and which was handed in for scrap in Melbourne after Australia banned all automatic and semi-automatic rifles in the aftermath of the Port Arthur shooting. (William West /AFP/Getty Images)
Australia’s conservative prime minister at the time, John Howard, championed the laws and pushed them through just 12 days after the shooting. Polling at the time showed that nine in 10 Australians backed the changes, and supporters of the laws point out they have reduced the number of guns in private hands while cutting the gun death rate by more than half.
In June, President Obama praised Australia's laws as a model for reducing gun violence. Australia has not had another mass shooting following the 1996 incident.
U.S. gun-rights advocates say allowing concealed carry could stop acts of violence from happening. They point to a beheading this September at an Oklahoma food processing plant, when a worker shot the suspect before he could claim another victim.
Stuart Stevens, the top strategist on Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, tweeted this on Sunday night:
Permitting concealed carry, however, would be an unprecedented change for Australia. The practice was not allowed even before the 1996 laws were passed.
Philip Alpers, a professor at the Sydney University School of Public Health, said that’s not likely to change. He said most Australians would still agree with Howard, the conservative former prime minister who instituted the gun laws.
“There are only a handful of Australians who might suggest that having more guns inside that café would have made the situation less dangerous,” Alpers said. He added that if anyone suggested more guns were the answer, “he'd be howled down and become a laughingstock across the country.”
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.