The Idaho Mass Shooting and the Australian Example 

Alexander Verbeek · Security Program SET Instructor at PDI - Posted 8 June 2021

62% of the shootings at work or school happen in a country where only 5% of the world population lives.  

Idaho authorities say they're investigating where the girl got the gun; let me help you with that one. 

A sixth-grade girl brought a gun to her Idaho middle school and started shooting. It sounds strangely familiar. If it is in America, people treat this kind of news like a hurricane: it is tragic news, part of life in the U.S., and we know similar new natural disasters will follow.  

News agencies do what we expect them to do. On day one, they produce pictures of crying students and worried parents waiting outside the school. On day two, they have found the hero without whom it would have ended much worse, and a reporter shares the latest news from the hospital.  

The officials also do what we expect them to do: they speak in sobering tones, describe what has happened, say how it could have been worse, and thank several people. Prayers are mentioned, and yes, thoughts too. A hurricane, an earthquake, or a mass shooting: they follow the same protocol. 

But with a mass shooting, there is always this line: 'we are investigating how he/she got the gun. 


They are investigating how the suspect got the gun? That question would be highly relevant in practically all of the 190 or so other countries in the world where gun laws make it almost impossible to own a gun. 

Let me help the authorities of Idaho with this latest investigation. 

Since last summer, a concealed weapons license is no longer required in Idaho for U.S. citizens (which is, I presume, 100% of the about 4000 people living in the town of Rigby). In the past decade, there has been a consistent trend in breaking down state gun laws. Age limits were lowered, the 'within city limits' restriction was abolished, and the permitless carry was expanded to any weapon. Idaho is one of the nine permitless concealed carries states in the U.S. 

Open carry is legal in Idaho. A concealed weapons license is not required for open carry, nor for long guns (covered or not).   

A firearm is also allowed to be transported in a vehicle, as long as it is in plain view. And if it is unloaded, it doesn't have to be in plain sight. 

Seven years ago, Idaho made it unlawful to use any state assets to enforce federal gun laws. Think about that one for a moment. The national gun restrictions are already the least effective globally (with the possible exception of Yemen). Still, Idaho declares that the state doesn't allow any state's assets to enforce these.  

Suppose the town of Rigby will soon look around in the world for some guidance on how to avoid mass shootings. The other 190 countries might inspire them to regulate the ownership, possession, use, transportation, or carrying of firearms. The state of Idaho thought about that risk and has state preemption of firearms laws in place. The state constitution states that "No law shall impose licensure, registration or special taxation on the ownership or possession of firearms or ammunition. Nor shall any law permit the confiscation of firearms, except those actually used in the commission of a felony." 

Back to Rigby: the authorities are investigating how the girl got the gun. I imagine the policemen in Rigby sitting in a meeting right now. "How is it possible that she got a gun? How on earth could she have found a weapon in Idaho after our state has done everything possible to abolish any reasonable restriction on gun control?"  

The situation in Idaho reminds me of these words, spoken by President Obama in October 2015, after another mass shooting. 

"Somehow, this has become routine. The reporting has become routine. My response here, from this podium, has become routine,"   

More shootings and presidential speeches would follow. The long list of mass shootings in the U.S. goes on and on.  

It is hard to imagine the collective grief for all those lives lost. The rest of the world, and many Americans, wonder why the effective measures that worked everywhere else on the planet are not adopted in the U.S.   

Not that mass shootings never happen elsewhere, but in 2017, it was estimated 31% of all public mass shootings in the world occur in the U.S., although it has only 5% of the world's population. Time magazine wrote in 2015 that this number goes up to 62% if you only look at shootings at work or school. Even the non-experts feel that the unique ratio of 89 guns per 100 Americans must have something to do with it. And experts confirm this: they found a strong correlation between gun ownership and violence. The runner-up is Yemen with 55%; do you see the correlation? For the rest of the 190 or so countries globally, not one of them even comes near this top-2.   

In 1996, the world was shocked by a horrible massacre in Tasmania. It was American style; there was the AR-15, the loner (a man of course), 35 killed, and the stories of unimaginable grief. But unlike in the U.S., the people, the media, and the politicians all agreed that this should never happen again. Consequently, authorities took the only logical step and opted for a concept proven in so many other countries. Within weeks, the government banned all semi-automatic weapons and military-style weapons in all of Australia. Soon after, many Australians voluntarily sold their guns to the government. The government compensated them financially.  

One of the tragedies that feel closer for me than many others was the mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, in March this year. I have dear friends there. I have spoken in many meetings of the annual Conference on World Affairs, and I returned during my travels in the American West. It is one of my favorite places in the U.S.   

Neven Stanisic's Facebook cover photo shows him surrounded by his friends at graduation. His family had fled the war in Bosnia for a new life. Far from the horrors of warfare, they came to the U.S. Lovely Boulder at the foot of the Rockies must have felt like paradise.  

Neven was probably the first who was shot. He was 23 and should have lived at least another half-century. Nine others would soon follow.   

Scrolling through Twitter, the victims' faces look at you, and I keep wondering why such an avoidable horror in society keeps repeating itself over and over again.  

Australia remains an excellent example of what is possible if sensible decisions win from senseless killings. I hope wisdom will win in the end. I see an effective new government that fights the pandemic with science and invests in vaccines. That gives hope in a country where until 20 January, everyone had to work it out by themselves and invested in toilet paper and guns.  

I think about the families and friends of the victims. Boulder will not be the same, but in a post covid world, I hope to go back to Boulder to see my friends.  

Things do not have to be this way. We have a choice: it is time to use it.  

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Professional Development Institute of the University of Ottawa.

Alexander Verbeek is the writer of the daily newsletter The Planet: He is a Dutch environmentalist and an international speaker. His main focus is on humanitarian and geopolitical risk issues and the linkage to the earth's accelerating environmental crisis. He frequently comments on television and other media channels.  His main Twitter site is @alex_verbeek 

Back to top