Worried about your civil liberties?  Concerned that the Potomac sniper’s terror, though now concluded, will lead to the shredding of the Second Amendment?  Then spare a thought for the helots Down Under, who are facing the prospect of unlimited gun confiscation after the horrific shooting spree of October 21, 2002, which killed two students and gravely injured five at Melbourne’s Monash University. 

Before the corpses had even been buried, the “Liberal” (a.k.a., with equal implausibility, “conservative”) John Howard was on the airwaves, demanding even tougher antigun laws than the ones he had imposed soon after Tasmania’s Port Arthur massacre, which occurred soon after he had won the prime ministry in 1996.  Six years ago, only private rifle owners lost their weapons.  Now, the planned targets are pistol owners.  Federal Treasurer Peter Costello informed the Melbourne Age on October 24, 2002, that there are “too many handguns in our society.”  One particular aspect of the new campaign indicates how far Australians have gone down the road to serfdom since Mr. Howard first gained office.  If he gets his way, we Untermenschen will have our fitness for future gun ownership judged by (Aldous Huxley, eat your heart out) “compulsory psychological tests.”

Victorian Labor Party Premier Steve Bracks, head of a minority administration relying on rural independents’ legislative support (and facing an election on November 30, 2002), at first voiced skepticism about further laws.  Not so Robert Doyle, Mr. Bracks’ Liberal opponent, whom Brisbane’s Courier-Mail quoted on October 24 as wanting to go beyond even Mr. Howard’s confiscatory ambitions.  Mr. Doyle sought a ban on all private pistol ownership.  Sure enough, it took Mr. Bracks only 24 hours to abandon his brief spasm of valor and to vow full public support for Mr. Howard’s aims, quibbling only over the details of the Howard plan.  (There are 45,000 known pistols in Victoria; of these, private ownership accounts for only around 14,000.  The rest already belong to the police, the armed services, and other branches of government.)

This gyration did Mr. Bracks no electoral harm.  The November 30 elections gave his administration 62 Lower House seats out of a possible 88, and Labor gained control of the Upper House for the first time in almost two decades.  Altogether, Mr. Bracks achieved the biggest landslide victory that Victoria’s Parliament has seen since 1859. 

Naturally, Howard, Bracks, and Doyle have never heard of Joyce Lee Malcolm’s Guns and Violence, or Richard Poe’s The Seven Myths of Gun Control, or John Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime, or any of the other printed data, copious enough by now to deforest Brazil, on the sheer absurdity—even in a once-deferential culture like England’s—of trying to redeem the depraved by disarming the honest.  And, of course, the loudest media voice in favor of gun laws has been that of the Rupert Murdoch empire, true to its dogma of howling down all tyrannies except its own.  (Particularly objectionable in this regard has been the Adelaide Advertiser, which repeatedly distinguished itself by describing the callous murder on October 14, 2002, of a South Australian mental-health boss as an “execution.”)

After the 1996 disarmament, conspiracy theories abounded—on the internet and in lovingly misspelled handbills—concerning how Mr. Howard planned to send his enemies to death camps and knowingly took orders from something called “the Zionist Occupation Government.”  The truth is more depressingly banal.  Mr. Howard is not a conscious stooge of Kissinger, Green-span, Sharon, or the duke of Edinburgh.  He is not even consumed by personal greed, whether for power or for pelf.  He is merely a semiliterate school prefect, haunted (to an extent remarkable even for antipodean statesmen) by what Mencken would have called the nagging fear that someone, somewhere, might be free. 

Understandably, the prime minister remains euphoric over his third-term triumph in 2001.  Federal Opposition Leader Simon Crean temporarily presides over a party so divided as to have incurred, at a New South Wales by election on October 19, 2002, its worst loss in 65 years.  Every Australian state premier is now solidly antigun.  So it would be nice to suppose that the prime minister’s nanny-statism is at loggerheads with what Rousseau called the general will.  Nice, but false.