In the aftermath of the horrific massacre in Las Vegas on Sunday night, Star Wars actor Mark Hamill is reentering the debate around gun control in the U.S. The legendary screen actor, known for the character of Luke Skywalker, took to Twitter Tuesday to remind followers that "it can be done. #PortArthur96."
Hamill is referencing the 1996 shooting in Port Arthur on the Australian island state of Tasmania that killed 35 people. Australia proceeded with what many observers on the Right consider to be a government gun grab. They implemented a full scale gun buyback, tighter restrictions on ownership, and harsh penalties for illegal gun ownership. In the decades since, four of Australia's six states have eased waiting period restrictions, and some estimate gun ownership is now comparable to levels in 1996. Gun violence still remains remarkably low.
Actors and celebrities wade into politics, more so than ever it seems, and Mark Hamill is no different. He notably tweeted in 2015 after the San Bernardino shooting:
Hamill's bullish stance on gun control has rankled Star Wars fans in the past and drawn scorn from conservative observers. On the other side, his activism has been lauded as an important voice for Americans who approve of Australian gun control.
It seems appropriate that the actress behind Luke Skywalker's soon-to-be protege, Rey, also has stepped into a bit of controversy over the issue of guns. In 2016, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" actress Daisy Ridley, deleted her Instagram account amidst a flurry of blowback and trolling to a post she made during the Teen Choice Awards about gun violence. She wrote:
Thinking about how lucky I am like . . . Serious bit: as I sat in the audience yesterday tears were streaming down my face at the tribute to those that have been lost to gun violence. I didn't get a great picture of the incredible group that came on stage but they were so brave. It was a true moment of togetherness. We must #stoptheviolence
This was in response to a segment of the program in which teen family members of Newtown, Orlando, and San Bernardino victims took the stage for a presentation on ending gun violence.
The reaction by Star Wars fans was out of proportion, to say the least. Actors are people, not performing monkeys, and have a right to speak out on issues they care about. What has been interesting about criticisms lobbed at Hamill and Ridley hasn't been the question of whether they should voice political opinions, but the question of what would the characters they depict stand for?
Luke Skywalker is a key player in the Rebel Alliance, an insurgent faction that manages to engage with and overthrow a tyrannical Galactic Empire. Hamill's assertion that the only Second Amendment right he supports is the right to own a musket comes as a surprise to fans who understandably assumed he internalized a key factor in the Empire's ability to maintain control over the galaxy for so long: firepower.
The very question of whether or not Americans need to be concerned about a government such as the Empire rankles liberals who do not embrace the idea that the 2nd Amendment was meant to protect Americans from their own government. This split is often seen on social media and in Washington when conservatives and liberals talk about Second Amendment rights.
At the end of the day, Hamill should not feel muzzled by his public status and role in Star Wars. At the same time, it seems appropriate for critics to continue pointing out that the galaxy in which Luke Skywalker lived suffered needlessly under a dictator who had the ability to exert force unchecked.
Australia doesn't seem to have an autocrat problem, and for that, we are all grateful. However, their political stability should not be a reason for the U.S. to move forward with Australian-style gun control. After all, aren't we being told by observers on the Left and Right that we currently have a president with unprecedented authoritarian tendencies? It cannot be true that we risk dictatorship and that we should also should forfeit our rights and ability to reject it.
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