By Rod McGuirk ,AP
CANBERRA — A former Australian government leader has blamed the gun culture in the United States for the shooting death of an Australian baseball player in Oklahoma and condemned America’s lax firearm controls as a corruptive influence around the world.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer — a 67-year-old businessman, corporate director and farmer who retired from federal politics in 2001 — was speaking on Saturday on the eve of a tribute baseball game being played in shooting victim Chris Lane’s hometown of Melbourne.
Lane, a 22-year-old student at East Central University, was shot in the back and killed on Aug. 16 while jogging in Duncan, an Oklahoma community where the three teenagers accused in his killing live.
Fischer, who was Australian ambassador to the Holy See until 2012, said the failure of the U.S. Congress to mandate background checks for sales at gun shows and to curb the availability of guns across the nation fed the illegal firearms trade in Australia and elsewhere.
“The very existence of over 250 million guns in the USA corrupts gun cultures in the rest of the world,” he said. “It’s one of the outputs of the (U.S.) failure to consider a middle way.”
“It’s because Congress can’t persuade the NRA (National Rifle Association) and the electors of the sense of a middle way with a shooters’ license permit scheme and a weapons registration scheme, and a limitation on size of magazines,” Fischer said.
If Congress had not failed, “Then you’d see a massive turn around on the average 80 deaths a day from guns, including suicides, in the USA,” Fischer said.
Australian gun reform is one of Fischer’s proudest achievements during his long political career.
He alienated many supporters of his rural-based conservative National Party when he supported then Prime Minister John Howard in tightening Australia’s gun laws following a massacre in Tasmania state in 1996 when a sole gunman killed 35 people.
The Australian government restricted gun ownership, outlawed semi-automatic rifles and funded a buyback of almost 700,000 guns — the equivalent of 40 million guns in the United States, based on population sizes.
Since then, there has not been a single gun massacre in Australia, a population of 23 million people. In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, 102 people were killed in 13 gun massacres, each with more than four victims.
Lane was allegedly killed with a resolver. Handgun ownership has long been restricted in Australia to those with a narrow range of legitimate needs, such as professional security guards. Self-defense is not recognized as a legitimate need for a handgun.
Following Lane’s death, Fischer urged Australians to reconsider traveling to the United States. He cited Australian National University research that found people are 15 times more likely to be shot dead in the United States than they are in Australia.
“Sadly since Chris Lane was shot in the back, about 400 Americans have died from gunshots across the murderous mayhem of Main Street USA,” Fischer said on Thursday.
“The real tragedy in the gun murders of the USA is that the NRA denies the USA a middle way on gun and firearms generally,” he added on Saturday.
“It is the failure of sensible people to stand up for a middle way which is not anti-gun, but does limit the size of magazines and the proliferation of guns that makes the difference,” he added.
Lane had returned to Oklahoma with his American girlfriend Sarah Harper only days before he was killed. The couple had spent the summer school vacation with Lane’s family in Melbourne.
Harper was due to return to Melbourne on Saturday ahead of the tribute game being played at Lane’s old club, Essendon Baseball Club, club official Julie Jones said.
Jones said details of Lane’s funeral in Melbourne next week had yet to be made public.