THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
WE CAN’T GET COMPLACENT ABOUT AUSTRALIA’S GUN LAWS
Young people in the United States and Australia have a lot in common.
TV, movies, music, clothing – so much popular culture crosses the Pacific.
The pressures of life are common too – unemployment, homelessness, broken families, broken hearts - and around one in five young Australians and young Americans will suffer mental illness.
There is one big difference, though.
No young Australian has faced a high school shooting. Too many American students have.
It’s not because our young people are different. It’s because our gun laws are.
In 1996, 35 people were shot dead and another 18 injured at Port Arthur in Tasmania.
So we changed our gun laws.
In the 22 years since then we haven’t had a mass shooting.
In the 18 years before the Port Arthur massacre we had 13 mass shootings killing 104 victims.
Before 1996, approximately three mass shootings took place every four years.
Had they continued at this rate, we could have expected another 16 incidents to the present day.
Gun buy-backs, which meant about one million fewer guns on our streets, and a prohibition on military style automatic and semi-automatic firearms has stopped mass shootings in Australia.
Sadly this doesn’t mean an end to gun violence in our country – it just means there is a lot less of it.
Since we changed our gun laws Australia has had no mass shootings.
In the 15 years from 1999 to 2013, the USA had least 317 mass shootings, with 1,554 people murdered and 441 injured.
Since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre more than 187,000 students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours.
One hundred and eighty-seven thousand - that’s a city the size of Townsville.
On February 15th, we in Australia woke to the terrible scenes of yet another school shooting, this time in Florida.
We are all horrified at the loss of life.
But we have been watching and listening to the responses to this tragedy with immense admiration, as a generation of young American activists say enough is enough.
Young Americans are saying their right to be safe at school is every bit as important as the right to bear arms.
School carnage is not the price of freedom.
Australians should show our support for those young Americans who have bravely stood up for their own right to safety, and in honour of all the children who have lost their lives or who live in fear.
We should show our support for advocates of sensible gun controls that will save lives.
We should never be complacent about our own gun laws in Australia.
There are almost as many guns in Australia today as there were at the time of the Port Arthur massacre.
Last year the controversy about the Adler shotgun showed that conservative MPs and Senators were prepared to cross the floor to weaken gun laws in this country.
Both Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull were prepared to trade away the strong gun protections delivered by John Howard in 1996 in order to win support from David Leyonhjelm on unrelated legislation.
One Nation and the NSW Shooters and Fishers are explicitly campaigning for weaker gun laws.
The Tasmanian Liberals held secret talks before the recent State election with the gun lobby promising to weaken Tasmanian gun laws if they were re-elected.
And now we hear that Peter Dutton wants to set up a gun lobby consultation group with the largest gun importers to have their say on government policy.
We are rightly proud of the gun laws introduced by John Howard, and supported across the political divide back in 1996.
We shouldn’t for a second be complacent.
The cost is too great.
This piece was originally published in Mamamia on Saturday, 24 March 2018.