3 November 2023

Time for governments to keep the 1996 Port Arthur promises on gun safety

| Deb Nesbitt
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There is still a way to go when it comes to gun control laws in Australia. Photo: ACT Policing.

Australians are rightly proud of our gun laws, but the promises made after the 1996 Port Arthur gun massacre have never been fully met.

Our political leaders now have the chance to fully live up to the promises they made in 2002 in response to the tragedy as they mull options for a national gun registry.

Late last week, the man who killed 18 people and injured another 13 in Maine in the US was finally found dead by his own hand. Gun violence is now the biggest killer of children in the US.

As the latest tragedy unfolded, the country’s deadliest in an alarming uptick of gun violence, US Vice President Kamala Harris lauded Australia as an exemplar on gun laws, saying, “Let us be clear, it does not have to be this way”.

Standing beside Harris, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s response took us back to our darkest day for gun deaths.

“Every time there is one of these [mass shooting] events, I am grateful Australia did act in a bipartisan way after the Port Arthur massacre,” he said.

The strong, unequivocal bipartisan support that delivered the national firearms agreement in 1996 following the Port Arthur massacre has not wavered. Albanese and Coalition leader Peter Dutton demonstrated that at a commemoration of the tragedy at the National Museum in June.

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Dutton applauded the Prime Minister for his and national cabinet’s work on gun laws and committed to ongoing cooperation, saying: “The work will never be done. There will always be a next iteration of firearms, of technology that needs to be grappled with, and on a bipartisan basis.”

Albanese reiterated a promise to finally deliver on a pivotal aspect of the 1996 national firearms agreement between the federal, state and territory governments – a national firearms register.

Attorney-general and police ministers from across the country had unanimously agreed to present national cabinet with options for the register, he said. Just 21 years late.

Apart from the Federal Government managing gun imports and exports, gun laws are the responsibility of state and territory governments and vary across jurisdictions.

No state or territory has ever fully complied with all of the national agreement, and gun laws have been gradually undermined, research by Gun Control Australia shows.

Gun control advocates remain wary that the national register will be sufficient to protect us from the threat posed by these weapons in the community, and we’re yet to see any detail.

The concern is that the national register will simply link each state and territory register and that it won’t tell us how many and what types of guns are out there, where they are, who’s been licensed to own them and under what, if any, conditions, and why they need them.

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Soon it will be one year since the shocking murders in Wieambilla in Queensland of two young police officers and a neighbour and the attempted murder of another police officer by three people who were able to amass high-powered guns, some transported across state borders.

Dutton said in June that the lives lost in Wieambilla could have been saved had a national register been in place. Let’s hope he’s right and the federal firearms register is universal, consistent and fully functional.

It’s important to note that guns are often an element in family violence. Their mere presence is used as a method of coercive control – a gun laid on a bed, a gun safe left open after an argument.

Guns have been the leading cause of child deaths in the US since 2020. Such is the political power of the hugely funded National Rifle Association, no one seems to know how to stop the slaughter in that country.

What it took here was courageous national political leaders to drive change at all levels of government.

We need them now to not just remain steadfast but lean heavily on their state and territory counterparts to live up fully to the promise they made in 1996.

What we really need is for the state and territory to relinquish control to permit national firearms law. It’s only logical that gun laws are uniform and consistently enforced across the country.

Still, it shouldn’t take the Port Arthur slaughter, the bloodbath in New Zealand or the Weilambilla killings for political leaders to properly protect us from weapons that do not belong in the community.

Original Article published by Deb Nesbitt on Riotact.

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