The American parents choosing a life in Australia over fears of school shootings

Gun Rights
Key Points
  • Some American families are choosing to leave the United States due to gun violence and safety fears.
  • Most recently, three students and three staff members were killed in a Nashville school shooting.
  • President Biden has urged Congress to pass tougher gun reform legislation and ban assault-style weapons.
For Amy Fox and her husband Chris, gun violence was a key factor in their decision to move from the United States to Australia.
When news broke of the latest school shooting in their home country, they watched in horror from the safety of their home in Loftus, NSW.
Ms Fox told SBS News the couple had been concerned for the safety of their son Oliver, who is four and a half, in the United States.
“If there was a shooting at my son’s school I don’t know how he would respond to that,” Ms Fox told SBS News.

“I can’t imagine being in a lockdown drill would go well for him.”

Ms Fox, who is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, says her family’s concerns are shared by many of their relatives at home, as well as other Americans they have met in Australia.
“I have some family members who are considering moving to Canada,” she said.
“I have met a number of women … who have moved overseas to Australia or elsewhere because of the gun violence and other issues, so for a lot of people I’ve met here from America, this was a big factor for moving overseas.”

Ms Fox and her husband lived in Australia between 2016 and 2019 before moving back to the United States, but in 2023 they returned to Australia, where they believe their son will be safer.

In 1996, then-prime minister John Howard introduced gun reforms in Australia after the Port Arthur mass shooting, during which 35 people were killed and 18 were injured.
Almost all semi-automatic and automatic guns are no longer legally available to the general public in Australia.
According to gunpolicy.org there were 12.09 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people in the United States in 2019, compared with 0.9 in Australia during the same period.
“The gun culture is not changing,” she said, adding that she truly believes “it will not change in the United States”.

“Australia did something with the mass shooting in Tasmania, and that was motivating for my family to come back to Australia.”

Man, woman, and young boy sitting outside

Amy Fox and her husband Chris were concerned about how their son Oliver would cope in a lockdown or school shooting situation. Source: Supplied / Amy Fox

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For Elizabeth Conlon, gun violence wasn’t the reason she left her home in Chicago, but it is the reason she hasn’t gone back.

Ms Conlon moved to Australia for a gap year but stayed after meeting her husband Phil, and the couple now has two sons.

They had planned to move back to Chicago but changed their plans following two school shootings in the area and a mass shooting at the 2022 Fourth of July Parade.

“That was a really close-to-home moment for me … just too close for comfort,” she said.
“It has progressively gotten worse and worse and closer to home, so we pulled out last minute and have decided we are not going to move back to Chicago now.”
They are now planning to move to Ireland to be closer to her husband’s family.
Ms Conlon says while schools should be a safe space, she would feel “constant anxiety” at the prospect of sending her children to school in the United States.
“I would feel constant anxiety … they’re meant to be safe at that school. You never think it’s going to be your school or your kid until it is,” she said.

“I would never forgive myself if I put (my kids) in that position.”

A man and woman with two young children and two dogs standing in a backyard

Liz and Phil Conlon decided not to move back to Chicago with their sons Ronan and Darragh due to repeated incidents of gun violence. Source: Supplied / Liz Conlon

Students and staff killed in Nashville shooting

On Monday, three students and three staff members were killed at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee.
The was armed with at least two assault rifles and a handgun and fired multiple shots while advancing through the school, police said.
The former student was then shot dead by police.

President Joe Biden once again urged Congress to pass tougher gun reform legislation and ban assault-style weapons.

“It’s sick,” Mr Biden said during an event at the White House.
“We have to do more to stop gun violence. It’s ripping our communities apart, ripping the soul of this nation.”
In 2021 Tennessee removed permit requirements for carrying a concealed handgun and now allows anyone 21 and older to carry a firearm – either openly or concealed, without a permit – as long as they are legally allowed to purchase the weapon.

Possessing a handgun is outlawed in Tennessee for anybody who has been convicted of a felony offence involving violence or drugs.

There have been 89 school shootings – defined as anytime a gun is discharged on school property – in the US so far in 2023, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database.

There were 303 such incidents last year, the highest of any year in the database, which goes back to 1970.

Lack of reform ‘incredibly frustrating’

Ms Conlon says while she would like to see much harsher restrictions on access to guns, she is not optimistic about reforms passing Congress.
“I can’t ever see them getting rid of (access to guns) … it’s a big money thing for them,” she said.

“I would love for it to be much harder (to own guns) … civilians do not need to own machine guns.”

MassShootingsUSMarch23_v2 (2).png

Source: SBS News / Ken Macleod

Ms Fox agrees.

“I believe too many politicians are in the pocket of the National Rifle Association (NRA). They receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from that organisation, and it seems people care too much about making money and don’t care about who dies,” she said.
“I believe the majority of Americans want gun reform and want change. It just seems that it’s constantly being blocked and it’s incredibly frustrating.”

Additional reporting by AAP

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