You have 50 minutes to read the passage and write an essay in response to the prompt that is provided.
Adapted from Peter “What it’s Like to Own Guns in a Country with Strict Gun Control.” ©2016 by TIME Magazine. Originally published January 13, 2016.
In 1996, shortly after a mass shooting in which 35 people died and 23 were wounded, the conservative Australian government introduced a series of stringent new gun laws. Since then, there have been no mass killings in Australia, gun deaths have gone down, and both homicides and suicides have dropped.
I love firearms. I collect them and I enjoy shooting them. I probably have 30 pistols and 20 rifles or shotgun combinations. My family has always had lots and lots of firearms. My father was a shooter and we had a property when I was growing up, so from the age of 12 I had a rifle. Target shooting was offered as a school sport and I used to carry my .308 rifle to the rifle range unsupervised with my friends on Saturday for practice and competition.
Then, after the 1996 massacre, I probably had to hand in six to eight semiautomatic rifles and shotguns to the police. We got fair value for them, but I wasn’t thrilled to be doing it because I thought “Well gee, what have I done wrong?” Would anything untoward ever have happened with the firearms I owned? No. A lot of people think there aren’t any guns in Australia any more, but there are. By some estimates there is one gun for every seven people. My local suburban pistol club has 300 members. My sons have been shooting since they were 12 and both have rifle and pistol licenses.
It’s actually not that hard to own a gun. But you do have to have a genuine reason. You have to be a member of a target shooting club or a hunter and you have to prove it. For hunting, you can get written permission from a landowner who says you are hunting on his land. Or you can join a hunting club. Pistols [handguns], on the other hand, are heavily restricted. All applicants undergo a background check by the police and there is a mandatory 30 day cooling off period for all license applications, both long arms and pistols. Firearms safety training courses are mandatory as well.
I had to buy all my guns through a licensed dealer. Before ’96 you could have as many long arm firearms as you liked. And they didn’t have to be registered, so the police had no idea what people had in their homes. (Pistols have always been tightly regulated and have always been registered with the police.)
Another part of the law that changed is that the police can come to your house and inspect your storage. When we renovated our house, I built a room dedicated to my firearms collection. They’re all in large safes. All the ammunition is stored separately to the rifles and the pistols. If you have more than 15 or so pistols, you’ve got to have a monitored alarm. If someone were to break into my house, or into my gun room, an alarm would go off and the police would be notified immediately.
The police are required to inspect your gun room. Since 1996, the police have inspected mine three or four times. While they can come randomly, they normally put a call through and we arrange an agreeable time to come in and inspect it. I’m happy for them to do it. I want them to see that it’s safe.
All these things I agree with. I would feel less safe where in Texas where everybody’s walking around with open carry. That would freak me out. It freaks me out enough to see the police all armed at the airport. Would I walk around the street with a pistol loaded on my waist? No way.
In Australia we don’t want guns to protect our homes. That idea’s ridiculous. If you were to ask the average Australian who isn’t a shooter, they would say that most people shouldn’t have access to any firearms. But the reality is that gun-lovers like me belong to a club and are doing no harm. I go clay pigeon shooting on a Saturday. I go pistol shooting on Sunday morning. That’s my hobby. And then every month or every eight weeks I go and visit my friend’s farm and hunt his feral pigs. He loses about 1,500 to 2,000 lambs a year to feral pigs. So we deal with them.
Of course, some parts of the legislation are annoying. I have 15 center fire rifles, .308, .243 and .30-30 are the main calibers. If I want to buy another one, I’ve got to go and fill out a permit to purchase and send it in with a payment of $30. And then I have to wait a further 30 days before that application is processed. Even though I’ve got 15 rifles at home, I’ve got to wait 30 days to get another one. That’s just stupid.
People who love to shoot in Australia look at the situation in America with dismay. We all want to be able to continue our sport. All these mass killings are giving it a bad name. It’s making everybody fear people like me, where they should have no fear. One big difference is that in Australia, we think owning a gun is a privilege, and in America people think of it as a right. When then Prime Minister John Howard proposed the gun law I marched like everybody else did in opposition to it. But I now fully endorse what he did. I didn’t like handing over my rifles, but at the end of the day, it’s a small price to pay not to have the nut-jobs walking through shopping centers and massacring innocent people.
Australia is a great country. You can go hunting, you can go shooting. And as long as you hurt nobody and abide the law you can continue to do it. That to me is freedom. The idea of having people own guns with no concept of gun safety and no reason to have a gun? That is not my idea of freedom.
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