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
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:
FAILURE TO RECTIFY
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.
WE ENCOURAGE THE GOVERNMENT TO UPHOLD AND STRENGTHEN PUBLIC SAFETY THROUGH TOUGH GUN LAWS. THERE IS NO PLACE FOR SILENCERS IN A CIVILISED COMMUNITY