The Florida tragedy demonstrates the need to tighten up our gun laws
In the aftermath of the Florida high school mass shooting I once again heard and read much commentary proposing that the USA would benefit by adopting Australian style gun laws.
In the USA the problem is in part the constitution’s 2nd Amendment, which reads ”A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
The amendment wasn’t meant to give the right of everyone who felt like it to buy as many automatic assault weapons as they liked, but unfortunately that is how it has been interpreted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), most politicians (many of whom received millions of dollars in campaign funds from the NRA), and of course, the courts over the past 200 years or so.
At the time of writing however, there appears to be some movement to tighten up background checks in the USA, thanks to student activism, which will certainly help, but not solve the problem. President Trump’s proposal to arm teachers certainly won’t help, it would only make things worse.
However, rather than devote my column to American gun control my column inches would be better spent on looking at how well our much daunted gun laws stand up over 20 years since the John Howard gun control laws of 1996.
My interest was sparked in part by a media release from Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, which pointed out that to a large degree that important work had come undone. “While the work of former prime minister John Howard on gun control was outstanding, the ban on semi-automatic longarms now needs to be expanded to include semi-automatic hand guns” Senator Rhiannon said.
So let’s see how the Howard era guns laws are faring now. “It is easy to become complacent, to feel reassured when our guns policy is wheeled out as an example of sensible law whenever yet another mass murder highlights the lethal consequences of legal paralysis in America” (Lenore Taylor, Guardian Australia).
Indeed, an Australian gun control audit found that the states failed to fully comply with the 1996 agreement. The details of our firearms laws aren’t nearly as uniform, or secure, or stringent, as we might believe. They are under constant challenge from gun manufacturers devising weapons that fire far more shots, far more rapidly, than the legal categorisations ever imagined, and from a gun lobby that fervently believes those categories were too restrictive in the first place.
A review of gun laws ordered after the 2014 Lindt cafe siege in took 18 months of fraught negotiation for the federal and state governments to revise the agreement. Adler imports were supposed to be banned while governments worked things out, but the Nationals senators crossed the floor to support a motion lifting the ban.
The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party in New South Wales wants to repeal the national firearms agreement altogether, as does One Nation in Queensland.
In contrast, the Greens are calling for a the ban on semi-automatic longarms to be expanded to include semi-automatic hand guns.
It is high time politicians from the Liberal, Nationals, One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers parties got back to the spirit of 1996 and showed the courage of John Howard and Tim Fischer.