Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 12, 2013

Forum: Snyder could be hero on guns


---- — I congratulated Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on his veto of the bill to permit properly trained persons carry concealed weapons in schools and other public places. I suggested he has an opportunity to become a national hero by supporting a law to ban many weapons and impose rigorous licensing and registration gun ownership requirements.

All assault-type weapons would be banned, as there is absolutely no rational use for them by private owners. Concealed handguns would be banned except for licensed security users. A state tax would be established to buy back currently legally held guns, which would be prohibited, at market prices and an amnesty to turn in illegally owned guns.

This proposal is realistic; it was carried out in Australia after a 1996 killing of 35 people by a semi-automatic weapon. Australians were so appalled by this massacre that the conservative Prime Minister led an initiative which resulted in the buyback and destruction of 640,000 long guns. This is equivalent to 40 million guns if a similar program were conducted in the United States.

The Federal government paid market prices for newly illegal sporting firearms, including most semi-automatic rifles, .22-caliber rimfires, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns by legislating a 1 percent levy on income tax for one year to finance the compensation. The buyback cost 500 million Australian dollars; 85 percent of the community supported it.

A 2003 university multiple killing by pistol resulted in a handgun buyback program that confiscated 50,000 newly illegal pistols; the majority were target arms of greater than 9mm caliber, or smaller handguns with barrels less than four inches, such as pocket pistols, mostly licensed for target use because since 1996, licenses were not issued for self-defense in Australia.

Today, Australian firearm licensing and registration processes require a "Genuine Reason" to own a gun relating to pest control, hunting, target shooting or collecting. Self-defense is not accepted as a reason for issuing a license. A fifth of Australian guns were bought back, leaving many legitimate guns stored in locked safes at home or at gun and hunting clubs.

While it is impossible to keep some criminals from having and using illegal guns, I lived in Australia for 30 years and can personally testify to the effectiveness of the Australian program. Hunters have to store their guns in secure storage as do farmers, sports shooters and law enforcement officers. The result has been a 59 percent reduction in firearm homicides, 50 percent in gun suicides. There have been no gun massacres since the 1996 legislation.

Michigan could lead the way but it would be better if our President and Congress agreed on a national gun buy-back program. The death of 20 first-graders will soon fade from the nation's collective consciousness with the National Rifle Association support for arming schools and conservative legislators opposing gun law proposals even for assault weapons with large ammunition magazines.

Best would be an America without fear of millions of weapons held by people who do not need them.

About the author: Peter Wolcott was an American Foreign Service officer for 22 years, ending his career in Australia, where he has lived since 1979. He received a master's degree in Public Policy from the University of Melbourne and worked for the Victorian State Government in a variety of policy and economic positions. He lives in Northport and Australia.

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