Rare Australia Shooting Puts Focus on Famous Gun Laws

7 dead in apparent murder-suicide on farm
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted May 11, 2018 2:05 PM CDT
In Rare Australia Shooting, Police Got a Call From Farm
Police forensics investigate the scene in Osmington, Australia Friday, May 11, 2018.   (Richard Wainwright/AAP Image via AP)

Australia is dealing with a rarity in that country—a mass shooting in which seven people are dead. The Australian Broadcast Network reports that the dead are believed to be three generations of the same family: Peter and Cynda Miles, who owned the farm in the southwestern town of Osmington where the bodies were found; their daughter, Katrina Miles; and her four children, believed to range in age from 8 to 13. Police are treating it as a murder-suicide and are not looking for suspects, but they have provided few details about what might have happened. Coverage:

  • Early phone call: Police say they received a call from a "male person" connected to the 30-acre property about 5am, and officers arrived soon after to find the bodies. The only males on the property were owner Peter Miles and his two grandsons. Two bodies were found outside, and the other five were found inside, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Police also recovered two guns.
  • The family: Peter Miles was a farmer and teacher and his wife was a "stalwart in the sustainability community," per the Herald. Neighbors are stunned and say they saw nothing amiss. "It's just horrifying," one tells 9News Australia. "They were good people." The children were reportedly home-schooled.

  • Self-sufficient: The family moved to the property near the tourist town of Margaret River about three years ago, reports the West Australian. “Pete worked at the high school teaching agriculture to students but he had some disagreement with the principal about the way it should be done because he believed in sustainability, and so he set out to prove you could make a living and be self-sufficient on a farm out here,” says a local, adding that Miles "was doing a fabulous job."
  • Famous laws: Australia put tough gun controls in effect after a lone gunman killed 35 people in 1996. Farmers can own guns, but automatic and semi-automatic weapons are banned from the public. Since the laws went into effect, the standard definition of a mass shooting (four people dead) had been met only once prior to Friday, reports the AP. In that incident, a farmer killed his wife, three children, and himself in 2014.
  • The debate: In the conservative Washington Examiner, Siraj Hasmhi writes that "gun control advocates in the U.S. often cite Australia as the shining role model of what type of policies they want their own government to adopt." But Friday's shooting should give them pause, he adds. "The point is this: while some data suggest that super-strict gun control has cut down on gun violence and gun-related deaths in some cases, there's still no guarantee that you're safe."
  • Counterpoint: German Lopez takes a deeper dive into the Australian gun laws at Vox and agrees that they can't stop every shooting. But, he adds, "the research is pretty clear that gun control can make a big difference." Lopez writes that it's little wonder gun violence is so prevalent in the US: While Americans make up less than 5% of the world's population, they account for 42% of privately held firearms.
  • Same laws in US? The BBC previously looked at Australia's gun laws, noting that both homicide and suicide rates have gone down since they were implemented. But would they ever fly in the US. "Probably not" is the answer, in part because Australia does not have a constitutional equivalent to the Second Amendment. Also, Australian lawmakers enacted the laws with speed and unanimity that seem almost impossible to achieve in the US.
  • Rural deaths: Mass shootings may be down, but rural areas are over-represented in Australian gun deaths, a member of Gun Control Australia tells the AP. "Although the details of this tragedy are yet to come to light, Australia has a tragic history of higher rate of gun deaths in rural areas."
(More Australia stories.)

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