20:58, October 03 358 0 theguardian.com

2017-10-03 20:58:03
Australia can't be complacent about Las Vegas. Our gun laws are being eroded

So much death, so much grief, so much misery. Just one man. One man with many high-powered firearms has managed to kill at least 59 people and injure over 527 with the numbers rising.

It will only be a matter of time before the conspiracy theorists will come out of the woodwork and say there must have been more shooters. Such conspiracy theorists also claim that the 1996 massacre at Port Arthur in Tasmania, where 35 people were shot dead and 23 others injured, was also committed by multiple shooters. But in Australia we know this isn’t true. We know that it doesn’t take multiple shooters to cause such carnage. What it takes is a person who has met their breaking point, makes a decision to inflict immense pain, has gained access to high-powered firearms with an unlimited supply of ammunition and commences firing randomly at people who are just going about their daily lives. The result is absolute terror.

Another myth that will no doubt raise its ugly face during the aftermath of this latest massacre is that proclaimed by Wayne LaPierre, National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice president: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Such a statement is not only gun lobby marketing at its very best, it is absolutely crap. In Nevada, Las Vegas, where this latest shooting has occurred, civilians can legally obtain a permit to carry around concealed firearms, they can openly carry around non-concealable firearms, they can openly have loaded handguns in their car and there is no regulation of assault rifles.

Yet such pro gun laws did not prevent the latest monstrosity nor any of the other mass shooting that have occurred over the last year. Because this isn’t the movies, this is real life where even the most experienced good guy with a gun, when taken by surprise by a bad guy with gun who has planned out his attack and is loaded up to the hilt with ammunition in high-powered firearms, is – to say the least – at a huge disadvantage.

To equate more guns with greater safety is like saying more cars will lead to fewer road accidents. Here in Australia we know that less guns means less gun violence, in particular less high-powered firearms. In fact, through the implementation of strong sensible gun laws, Australia has managed to more than halve our gun deaths rate. There have been no mass murders since the Port Arthur massacre. In the 18 years between 1979 and April 1996, Australia saw 13 massacres where 104 victims died, yet not one massacre since the new laws were introduced. It has been an extraordinary achievement which has been revered internationally.

In 1996 politicians managed to come to a bipartisan agreement to change our gun laws. The main changes included: a ban on semi-automatic rifles and pump action shotguns, a gun buyback, the introduction of a uniform registration and licensing system and an acknowledgment that gun ownership is a privilege and not a right. These laws were implemented into each state and territory legislation which implemented a national approach to gun regulation.

But these laws were not set in stone. It’s 20 years on since these laws were introduced. Being state based laws has made them susceptible to political deal making, particularly in states like New South Wales, where gun lobby representatives have held the balance of parliamentary power.

On Thursday Gun Control Australia (GCA) will be releasing a report into the true state of our gun laws. The report is an audit of the nine separate pieces of firearm legislation and how these laws comply, or no longer comply, with the 1996 National Firearms Agreement. The report will reveal just how far governments have allowed our gun laws to slip away.

With gun numbers increasing, gun laws eroding and the gun lobby on the rise, Australia is facing a concerning future. It may take one person to commit a massacre, but it takes a whole country to prevent such carnage.

  • Samantha Lee is chair of Gun Control Australia and a lawyer