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How traveling has helped me “sea”

Last year I visited Tasmania, Australia. A beautiful island off the mainland. While there, I toured the state for two weeks- by car, boat and foot. It is full of amazing landscapes, history, people, and a feeling of safety. 

The island of Tasmania used to act as a settlement for convicts. Among the places I visited was Port Arthur, Australia’s best-preserved convict site. This port holds evocative history- once a timber station, transformed into a convict settlement and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From a place of punishment to a place of opportunity.

On April 28 1996, Port Arthur turned from a place of remembrance to a place of mourning. Like any other day at the port- adults, teens, and children explored the historic grounds. Among the visitors was a 28-year old white male who had lunch at the on-site cafe. After eating, he pulled a semi-automatic rifle from his bag and quickly massacred 20 people. His killing spree did not end there. It was not until the following morning and 35 total deaths later that he got captured. 

In less than a month, Australia’s prime minister, John Howard, created the National Firearms Agreement. An agreement that resulted in extensive licensing and registration procedures, which included a 28-day waiting period for gun sales. In addition, it banned all fully automatic or semi-automatic weapons, except when potential buyers could provide a valid reason (which did not include self-defence) for owning such a firearm. The federal government also instituted a gun buyback program, which resulted in the surrender of around 700,000 firearms. Gun-related deaths dropped drastically- still, gun-rights advocates criticized the new laws.

While you have the right to hold a firearm for legal reasons such as hunting, sports shooting, pest control, collecting and farming, licenses must be renewed every 3 or 5 years (or 10 years in the Northern Territory, South Australia & Queensland). Full license holders must be at least 18 years of age. Licenses are also prohibited for convicted offenders and those with a history of mental illness.

Since the 1996 mass shooting in Port Arthur, there have been just 3 mass shootings in Australia. In the USA, we have about 3 every other day. A mass shooting is defined by Gun Violence Archive as FOUR or more shot and/or killed in a single incident, not including the shooter. We have already suffered 214 mass shootings in a year that we are just 145 days into. 

I first wrote this following the Buffalo supermarket mass shooting, resulting in 10 dead, which marked the deadliest shooting of the year for the United States. I now come back to add to this story filled with anger, fear, and heartbreak following the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, taking the innocent lives of 19 children and 2 teachers. This massacre doubled our deadliest mass shooting of the year, just ten days prior. Uvalde school district had an extensive safety plan in place- yet these children still experienced their classrooms transform into a battlefield in minutes. 

We no longer have time to grieve the loss of one group before we can even begin to process the next. We no longer have time to sit back and wait. 110 lives get shot and killed every single day. We need to take action now. When tragedy strikes so often, it is easy to lose hope- it is easy to feel like the problem is too big. But it will not feel too big when it hits close to home. I urge everyone to act now before that happens. 

Hunters, farmers, sport shooters, dad- you can still own your guns. But you need to know how to secure those guns and their ammunition. And, if you need a semi-automatic to shoot a deer, you have other problems to work through. If you want to live within a safe community while preserving the right to bear arms- you must support common-sense gun laws.

Follow @shannonwatts, text ACT to 644-33, unite with Moms Demend Action, or visit Everytown to join the fight. This is not a fight against our rights, this is a fight for our lives. 

April 28th 1996, was a horrific day for Australia, but it also marked a staple of change for their country. When are we going to choose our date, America?

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