If Australia can stop mass shootings, why can't we?

In addition, Australia faced none of the structural or constitutional obstacles standing in the way of gun reform here in the United States. Australia does not have anything resembling the Second Amendment. It has no filibuster, no Bill of Rights and no constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms. The Australian Constitution explicitly codifies a handful of other rights like the right to a fair trial and freedom of religion, and Australia’s High Court has ruled that the Constitution contains an implied right to freedom of political communication. But on guns the country’s founding document has nothing to say. The great drama of contemporary Australian jurisprudence is about enshrining, rather than removing, rights within the Constitution, making the debate on individual rights and freedoms in Australia quite distinct from the one in America.

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Australia loses as much as it gains from this constitutional deficiency — a point that’s often lost in American media coverage of gun policy in the emotional days that follow a mass shooting. Compared with the herculean effort that would be required to repeal the Second Amendment, Australia’s gun reforms entered into law relatively easily. But without a Bill of Rights, there’s no constitutional framework in Australia to prevent the mandatory and indefinite detention of asylum seekers, or to insulate free speech from the chilling effect of defamation suits.

The Port Arthur gunman reportedly chose his site, a former penal colony turned into an open-air museum, in part as a homage to Australia’s bloody history of colonial violence: The weakness of Australia’s architecture of express individual freedoms may have inadvertently helped put an end to frequent mass shootings, but the absence of a Bill of Rights is also, arguably, one of the reasons Indigenous Australians, those dispossessed and murdered by the same people who built Port Arthur, continue to endure life expectancy and standards of living well below the national average.

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