Yesterday in Sydney’s CBD, a young man wielding a kitchen knife allegedly killed a woman and seriously injured another woman, who is currently recovering in hospital. As the man ran out onto the street, still holding the knife, several bystanders leapt into action, with one brandishing a chair as he attempted to corral the man and another filmed using a milk crate to subdue the suspect as they waited for police. The man, identified as 21-year-old Mert Ney, was apprehended and the bystanders are being praised for their quick-thinking, fearless actions.
As soon as news reports and witness footage started rolling in, Facebook and Twitter feeds were instantly stacked with headlines. Updates are still being posted, and in between the news, a bunch of “milk crate” memes are going viral. You probably would have seen them in your feeds, but here’s one for context:
Now, us Australians are a proud nation. We love anything that is uniquely “Aussie”, that sums us blue collar battlers up in a word or sentence. Like the meme of the dingo killing the shark with the snakes rooting in the foreground. Or Trent from Punchy. Or any episode of Kath & Kim or All Aussie Adventures. Or yes, someone being subdued with a humble milk crate.
And we’re really, really proud of our gun control laws. Whenever there is another mass shooting in the US, I see countless reposts from Aussies of John Oliver‘s excellent Daily Show explainer on gun control reform in Australia, the catalyst for which was the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, in which Martin Bryant gunned down 35 people. But as this tweet sums up nicely, it’s a pride that borders on smugness about how much better off we are here because of our gun laws.
Firstly, let’s not forget that a woman was murdered and another injured, and even though the milk crate was certainly a takeaway from the incident, it shouldn’t be the takeaway. The memes seem to gloss over this issue, while simultaneously crowing about how Australia is better than America because we don’t need guns to get this kind of thing done.
Why is our first response when something terrible happens to pat each other on the backs that we don’t all carry guns here? Sure, the alleged perpetrator wasn’t wielding a semi-automatic weapon, he wasn’t even wielding a machete, like some frantic reports first claimed. It was a run of the mill kitchen knife, which just proves that when you want to inflict damage on another person there are plenty of ways to do it. It’s just that not all of them involve triggers.
America has huge issues with gun control and is in urgent need of reform, there is no denying that. But Australia is not perfect. People are killed in our country every day. They are stabbed, coward punched, strangled, and yes, even shot. There are still guns in Australia being used to inflict damage. While there hasn’t been a mass shooting with a death toll like Port Arthur’s since 1996, on June 4 this year four people were shot dead by a gunman in Darwin. On December 15 2014, Man Haron Monis stormed the Lindt Cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place, brandishing a shotgun and taking 18 staff and customers hostage.
That day could have easily ended with 18 deaths. It ended with the loss of two lives: cafe manager Tori Johnson and customer Katrina Dawson. Perhaps some of us breathed a secret sigh of relief, because a death toll of 18 would have surely put us in the US leagues of mass shootings and ruined our great record. We wouldn’t have been able to share the John Oliver video or share gun control memes if that had happened. But a death toll of 18 was really close to being a reality.
I’ve never written about him before, but Tori was my partner’s brother, a member of my family. And while I’m thankful that 16 other families didn’t have to lose someone that day, two families did feel the effect of gun violence. While it wasn’t a mass shooting, it was still a person using a gun as a weapon in Australia.
While far less people may have been affected by gun violence in Australia than America, that doesn’t mean the victims don’t exist. I’ve seen it and felt it in full effect. And there’s 35 people still being mourned from 1996 — not to mention one stabbing victim from yesterday — and gun reform doesn’t erase that. So it’s jarring to me, and probably to anyone who knew and loved Tori and Katrina and other victims of gun violence, when I see content online that brags about Australia’s gun control.
For me, the grief over Tori’s senseless death still rears its head every time I learn about any senseless loss of life: an American mass shooting. A Parisian knife rampage. A London van attack. A Christchurch mosque shooting. A Sydney stabbing. There’s violence of all kinds everywhere, and Australia is not immune to it. We’re right to be proud of the heroic actions of the people who helped subdue the suspect yesterday. But let’s not use jokes about a milk crate to distract from the ugly truth of what happened, and what could happen on any given Tuesday.