I digress from health care for a moment. I need to address the topic of guns. Actually, guns in America probably explain much of the difference in life expectancy between Americans and Australians because so many Americans die young due to gun violence, accidents, and suicides, whereas few Australians do. So actually, it is a health issue.
From nearly the start of my travels in Australia, people have been asking me to explain guns in America. They literally cannot understand why, particularly after the school shooting in Newtown, we would not pass “common sense” gun legislation.
To put guns (or lack thereof) in Australia into context, even the wife of the head of Eisenhower Fellowships Australia, a self-proclaimed staunch conservative, was pretty animated about a recent Australian policy shift to allow guns in national parks. She was concerned about what might happen if people were hunting and accidentally shot other visitors. No pun intended, but she was pretty up in arms.
I had many conversations with Australians that went something like this:
“How do you explain guns?” –Any Australian
“Um…I really can’t and wouldn’t try.” –Me
“Did people actually think arming teachers was a good idea?” –Any Australian
“Uh…I think so. But most of us didn’t.” –Me
“We actually thought it was a farce when people suggested that America needs MORE guns after the school shooting (Newtown). We literally thought it was a joke. It took us a while to realize that was a serious position.” –Any Australian
“I know. I think people were serious about that. But the vast majority of Americans supported some kind of legislation. If ever there was a time when we could have passed something, it should have been after 20 children died. The fact that we couldn’t pass anything is simply a failure of leadership in my opinion. We just lack leadership courage.” –Me (May as well just own this national embarrassment. I could see no other way to explain it.)
Carol Bennett, CEO of Consumers Health Forum of Australia said it well. “We look at guns in the U.S. and we think, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ We just don’t understand how the rights of one lobby is allowed to impact the lives of so many people.”
I heard the word “ridiculous” on almost every occasion where the topic of guns arose.
In the context of consumer empowerment in health care, I had asked Carol what she would do in the U.S. She said she’d start with a question, which I think applies perfectly to guns, too. Her question: “You have to decide, what kind of society do you want to have?”
Yes. I reckon we do.