Even as police were still on the scene of yet another American school shooting – the 74th since the massacre of primary school children in Newtown – President Barack Obama praised Australia’s gun laws in an online question and answer session.
“Couple of decades ago, Australia had a mass shooting, similar to Columbine or Newtown. And Australia just said, well, that’s it, we’re not doing, we’re not seeing that again, and basically imposed very severe, tough gun laws, and they haven’t had a mass shooting since,” said the president in a pre-arranged session held to discuss his plans to help cut student debt.
“Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There’s no advanced, developed country that would put up with this.”
He said he was stunned that Congress had not managed to pass laws on new regulations after the Newtown massacre in 2012.
“Most members of Congress — and I have to say to some degree this is bipartisan — are terrified of the NRA. The combination of, you know, the NRA and gun manufacturers are very well financed and have the capacity to move votes in local elections and congressional elections. And so if you’re running for office right now, that’s where you feel the heat,” he said.
The President’s comments, his most direct since his efforts to pass gun control legislation failed, came hours after a gunman shot dead a 14-year-old student at a junior high school in Oregon.
US President Barack Obama has singled out Australia's response to gun violence for praise - the US gun lobby disagrees. Photo: Reuters
Mr Obama’s comments were quickly condemned by conservative media. The Washington Times noted that he praised “a country that had outright banned and imposed a mandatory buyback on almost all long guns, including semi-automatic weapons and shotguns".
A comment piece in the National Review Online thundered: “In other words, the President of the United States just praised a government for forcefully removing all semi-automatic firearms (ie. a remarkable number of the guns in America and the majority of those sold today) from its citizenry.
“Let me be clear, as Obama likes to say: You simply cannot praise Australia’s gun laws without praising the country’s mass confiscation program. That is Australia’s law. When the Left says that we should respond to shootings as Australia did, they don’t mean that we should institute background checks on private sales; they mean that they we should ban and confiscate guns. No amount of wooly words can change this. Again, one doesn’t bring up countries that have confiscated firearms as a shining example unless one wishes to push the conversation toward confiscation.”
In the wake of the Newtown massacre gun control activists backed by Mr Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden backed reforms that would have included increased background checks but not widespread bans and buybacks, which are generally considered too radical a move in the United States.