COMMENT: Gun laws, is Australia doing enough?

by Boris Drenec

Steven Jones, Reporter

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Australia’s gun laws have once again been thrown into the limelight following the tragedy of the Christchurch terror attacks and Al Jazeera’s undercover investigation into Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party and the US gun-rights organisation National Rifle Association (NRA).

In a two-part series three years in the making, Al Jazeera exposed One Nation conspiring to take money from the American NRA to fund their campaign to soften gun laws in Australia. The push was an attempt to try and change Australia’s gun laws to match those of the second amendment rights in America.

The attempt to make gun laws more lenient was met with much disgust as it was brought to light just days after 50 people were shot dead in two separate mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Mass shootings happen almost every day in the United States. Data from the Gun Violence Archive revealed there is a mass shooting –defined as four or more people shot in the same incident (not including the shooter) – nine out of every ten days.

New Zealand is our closest neighbour both geographically and culturally, to think that they, a country so similar to us, could experience terror of this nature is harrowing and raises the question: could this happen to us? Are Australia’s gun laws strict enough?

Australia’s gun laws took a drastic change in 1996 after the Port Arthur Massacre. The attack in the Tasmanian town saw 35 fatalities at the hand of a single gun-man wielding two semi-automatic rifles. After the attack the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) was introduced under former Prime Minister John Howard’s Government. The NFA saw much stricter rules around semi-automatic and automatic firearms. While it still allowed certain people to obtain the weapons for reasons other than ‘self defence’ or ‘personal protection’ all individuals had to go through a strenuous process to become licensed and permitted to own their firearms.

Gun laws haven’t changed much since the Howard Government’s NFA but maybe that’s because they don’t need to. According to GunPolicy.org, gun numbers in Australia have been gradually increasing since 1997, yet the number of gun related deaths decreased during the same time. Since 2004 gun deaths have plateaued, staying relatively consistent. Basically the numbers of  guns have increased yet the amount of deaths has not.

The procedures around obtaining a gun license are in place to ensure that guns are only available to responsible users and it seems the procedures are working. If we have more guns but not more deaths then the people who are obtaining guns legally seem to be responsible users of them.

Many argue that it is often not licensed guns that are responsible for these acts of terror but unregistered ones. While that is a valid point the Australian government took action to minimise this issue two years ago. In 2017 Australia held a firearm amnesty between the start of July and the end of September. The amnesty allowed residents to hand in unregistered firearms back to authority without fear of punishment. During the amnesty 51,000 unregistered firearms were handed in severely denting the number in circulation. However, it was estimated to be 51,000 of 260,000, so while it is a move in the right direction, there is clearly more to be done.

Bevan Steele, President of the WA Firearms Traders Association (WAFTA) and owner of Steelo’s Guns and Outdoors, believes allowing residents to hand in unregistered firearms at any time, not just when the government deems acceptable would be a good step towards the responsible use of guns. “We’re pushing for a standardised amnesty; we want it on paper that there is amnesty everyday of the week. We want an avenue where you can get guns out of circulation quick and easy with no fuss.”

Another suggestion Steele made was unifying Australian gun laws to avoid confusion. “There are lots of areas that are inconsistent in gun laws across Australia. That is something we want to group up and make more consistent. That’s obviously seem by anti’s as ‘oh you want to water gun laws down,’ we’re not trying to water them down, but we are trying to make them more consistent.”

Steele makes a good point, it’s often conceived that pro gun lobbies want to make it easier for anyone to purchase a gun, and while this may be true for some parties, Steele assured me that this was not the case for the WAFTA. “There needs to be checks and balances in place, industry recognises that. We know the product we are selling, you shouldn’t have any Tom, Dick and Harry able to buy our product.”

It’s a hot-collar debate. Gun laws seem to be effective, the statistics back that up. While even pro gun lobbies recognise changes can be made there seems no need to make any knee-jerk reactions to a system that has been fairly effective for the last 20 years.

 

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