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This was published 7 years ago
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Twenty years ago, a lone gun man armed with high-powered gun opened fire at the historic site of Port Arthur in Tasmania, killing 35 people, wounding 18 others and traumatising so many more.
In response to this massacre Australia introduced strong national uniform gun laws. It was an event that not only radically shaped Australia's gun laws, but our cultural landscape. Australia is now known as the country that heroically stood up for public safety by making gun ownership a privilege and not a right – saying no to an "American gun culture".
Our strong stance on guns has meant there are now young people in Australia who have never had to wake up to the news of an Australian gun massacre. Since Port Arthur, Australia has never experienced another gun massacre and the total number of yearly gun deaths has fallen from about 600 in the early 1990s to fewer than 250.
But recently our gun laws have taken a battering. Incrementally, each state and territory has weakened gun laws, including: introducing shooting in national parks; deletion of police checks for second and subsequent guns; allowing general access to silencers to recreational and sporting shooters; shooting in gun clubs without a gun licence; and allowing general access to rapid-style firearms (the six-shot Adler A110).
An Adler A110 lever-action shotgun.
Elected officials have allowed themselves to be influenced by minority pro-gun groups. The pro-gun lobby in Australia is made up of various bodies including the Shooters and Fishers Party, Sporting Shooters Association Australia, importer companies such as NIOA, and hunting and sport shooting clubs. Some of these bodies are highly funded, incredibly organised and lobby governments at the federal, state and United Nations levels.
Of concern, in recent years there has been a steady rise in pro-gun representatives being elected to State and Federal Parliament. In the Australian Senate the two well-known pro-gun politicians are David Leyonhjelm and Bridget McKenzie. In NSW and Victoria there are two Shooters and Fishers Party representatives holding the balance of power in the Legislative Assembly and one Shooters and Fishers Party representative in WA.
Only recently we have witnessed the influence of the gun lobby on government decision-making. Last year, NIOA, Australia's leading small-arms supplier, assisted in the design of a new lever-action shotgun. The gun has been promoted by NIOA as a "game changer for the Australian market". The gun has a magazine and is capable of holding eight cartridges, with a short-stroke lever for fast operation, which sets it apart from other lever-action shotguns. The gun was to be imported as a garden-variety hunting rifle (known as category A firearm). Category A firearms are single-shot firearms such as air rifles – firearms that have no rapid-fire capability.
But due to public concern about the classification of this eight-shot Adler A110, a sunset ban was placed on its importation until a review of the National Firearms Agreement had been conducted.
Australia’s gun buyback was launched after 35 people were shot dead in the Port Arthur massacre.Credit: Channel 10
Even though this review is not complete, the federal Liberal government still decided to allow the importation of a six-shot Adler A110 lever-action firearm. Not surprisingly, more than 7000 of these firearms have already been sold and distributed nationwide. The disturbing part to this story is that a six-shot Adler A110 had never been on the table until the eight shot was banned. In other words, the Liberal government supported NIOA in navigating a legislative loophole to import a rapid-fire gun.
These many changes to our gun laws and have not been broadly publicised and most Australians may believe we still have the same strong gun laws introduced after the Port Arthur massacre.
When it comes to our gun laws, Australia is standing at a precipice. We have come so far that to drop down back into pre-Port Arthur days would be devastating. If there is one thing we can take from this anniversary, it is our gun laws have made Australia a safer place. Gun control is in our control and we must not let these laws slip away.
Samantha Lee is the chair of Gun Control Australia and a lawyer.
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