Stand­ing up for our firearm laws

The par­lia­men­tary re­port is wel­come, but we need more work to make us all safer, say Roland Browne and Phill Pullinger

Mercury (Hobart) - - TALKING POINT - Roland Browne is a Ho­bart lawyer and vice-pres­i­dent of Gun Con­trol Aus­tralia. Tas­ma­nian Dr Phill Pullinger is a ru­ral GP and pres­i­dent of Medics for Gun Con­trol.

EMER­GENCY physi­cian Dr Bryan Walpole has de­scribed the ex­pe­ri­ence of treat­ing vic­tims in the Royal Ho­bart Hos­pi­tal’s emer­gency depart­ment on April 28, 1996, as “like go­ing to war for the day.” On that day 35 peo­ple died and many more were in­jured dur­ing the Port Arthur Mas­sacre. Emer­gency doc­tors who worked in Tas­ma­nia dur­ing the 1980s and 1990s talk about shoot­ing in­ci­dents and gun­re­lated in­juries and deaths as be­ing an un­for­tu­nate part of life work­ing in emer­gency in Tas­ma­nia. To­day, emer­gency nurses and doc­tors can count on their hand the num­ber of gun-re­lated deaths or in­juries they en­counter. This is be­cause in 1996 Aus­tralia’s prime min­is­ter, John Howard, was joined by a cross-party coali­tion of politi­cians demon­strat­ing coura­geous lead­er­ship to es­tab­lish the Na­tional Firearms Agree­ment. The NFA is a na­tion­ally con­sis­tent set of min­i­mum stan­dards that reg­u­late the li­cens­ing and use of guns in Aus­tralia. Since then, gun deaths in Aus­tralia have plum­meted to less than half of what they had been. There were 13 mass shoot­ings in Aus­tralia in the 18 years lead­ing up to the Port Arthur Mas­sacre; there were none in the 20-plus years fol­low­ing the NFA es­tab­lish­ment (un­til Mar­garet River in 2018). A study into deaths from firearms fol­low­ing the NFA im­ple­men­ta­tion and the gun buy­back scheme, con­ser­va­tively es­ti­mated more than 200 lives a year have been saved. This is one of the most suc­cess­ful and broadly sup­ported pieces of public pol­icy in Aus­tralian his­tory. Most re­main­ing gun deaths in Aus­tralia are sui­cides, with men in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties over-rep­re­sented. Tas­ma­nia is a ru­ral state with the high­est rates of gun own­er­ship in the coun­try. Men­tal health and de­pres­sion are too com­mon in Tas­ma­nia. Strong laws that en­sure strict li­cens­ing, safety and stor­age re­quire­ments for guns are crit­i­cal to sav­ing lives in Tas­ma­nia. In this con­text, it is no sur­prise that there was a sig­nif­i­cant out­cry when vic­tims and sur­vivors from Port Arthur, am­bu­lance of­fi­cers, emer­gency doc­tors, nurses and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties heard about the Tas­ma­nian Govern­ment’s se­cret prom­ise to the gun lobby to radically wa­ter down gun laws. Thank­fully this out­cry did not fall on deaf ears. In­stead of press­ing ahead with law changes, the Govern­ment es­tab­lished a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee to in­quire into Tas­ma­nia’s gun laws. That in­quiry heard from dozens of Tas­ma­ni­ans, ex­perts, health pro­fes­sion­als, sur­vivors, po­lice and first re­spon­ders to gun vi­o­lence, all sug­gest­ing that Tas­ma­nia’s gun laws be up­held and strength­ened. We wel­come that com­mit­tee’s re­port. In par­tic­u­lar we sup­port its core rec­om­men­da­tion call­ing on a com­mit­ment to the NFA. But also, im­por­tantly, its af­fir­ma­tion that gun own­er­ship in Tas­ma­nia is a priv­i­lege and con­di­tional upon an over­rid­ing need to en­sure public safety. This po­si­tion has the sup­port of an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Aus­tralians and is strongly en­dorsed by gun safety groups, po­lice and health pro­fes­sion­als. The com­mit­tee has also rec­om­mended ac­tions that are strongly sup­ported by health and gun safety groups, in­clud­ing that: FIREARM SER­VICES and med­i­cal au­thor­i­ties un­der­take a for­mal re­view to re­solve mat­ters re­lat­ing to the duty to no­tify con­cerns about per­sons be­lieved to have firearms. THE TAS­MA­NIAN GOVERN­MENT ad­vo­cates for a na­tion­ally recog­nised firearm safety course. A RE­VIEW into the theft and usage of stolen firearms is con­ducted to en­sure strong enough penal­ties to de­ter of­fend­ing. ENOUGH RE­SOURCES are pro­vided to Firearms Ser­vices to en­sure that back­ground checks and risk alerts are

pro­cessed and dealt with as quickly as pos­si­ble.

For­tu­nately, the com­mit­tee has not made spe­cific rec­om­men­da­tions to wa­ter down gun laws in Tas­ma­nia, and this is warmly wel­comed.

Un­for­tu­nately, a few

con­cerns do re­main, in­clud­ing:


Tas­ma­nia’s non-com­pli­ance with the NFA in re­la­tion to gun use by chil­dren.

FAIL­URE TO FIRMLY RE­JECT the gun lobby’s at­tempts to weaken gun laws in re­la­tion to the use of si­lencers – in­stead re­fer­ring this for na­tional con­sid­er­a­tion.

We urge the Tas­ma­nian Govern­ment to em­brace the core find­ings of this par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee re­port. We en­cour­age it to up­hold and strengthen public safety through tough gun laws. There is no place for si­lencers in a civilised com­mu­nity.

Now is the op­por­tu­nity to re­ject the fierce, sus­tained be­hind-the-scenes lob­by­ing of gun groups. These ex­tremely wealthy groups have not and will not give up in their at­tempts to try to slowly erode these crit­i­cal public health and safety laws.

Firearms pol­icy must be set ac­cord­ing to public health needs, not the profit mar­gin of those in the gun busi­ness.


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