Chris O'Connor

By Chris O’Connor

It was a Sunday and people around Australia heard there had been a shooting. At first it was one person, then five, then 20….when the shooting stopped 35 people were dead. There was shock and a reaction like no other seen before in Australia. This was not the US where mass shootings are common; no this was Australia and the April shootings 25 years ago it brought about the biggest gun control any nation has seen in years..Well, we thought it had.

This incident occurred at the Port Arthur tourist site – a onetime penal settlement its black history was added to that day when a young man who was confused with the world and will never leave prison.wet on a literal rampage. It was a moment that positioned Australia’s tightened gun laws as a model standard held up in the aftermath of mass shootings around the world.

The Australian gun safety experts who endured violent physical threats as they worked with governments to flesh out a national agreement for tighter measures ultimately went on to advise the United Nations and politicians around the world, and became frequent fixtures on American television following mass shootings in the United States.

In the years since Port Arthur, however, the people credited with lowering Australia’s gun-death rate are warning of systemic issues that have bolstered the position of Australia’s gun lobby and slowly eroded aspects of the national firearms agreement.

The story of how the agreement came into law is the stuff of legend. Over 12 days Semi-automatic rifles and shotguns were prohibited, with a few exceptions, all firearms were required to be registered, and a proof of reason would be required for all gun-licence applicants and gun purchases, with self-defence not considered a reason. Licenses would be reviewed, and ammunition sales were to be restricted to those licensed for the specific firearm. A national integrated registry was to be formed.

Notably, the reforms included a buyback of semi-automatic weapons and guns from owners no longer qualified to possess them. About 650,000 guns were destroyed, as part of the reforms that cost $500m.

But it may all have been in vain. For a second remember the amount of guns that was handed in and remember this is Australia with a relatively small population. The number of licensed gun owners has declined by about a third since Port Arthur despite a rise in population. However there is a sting to the tail, mainly through intense lobbying by gun enthusiast and their various shooting clubs – and it has to be said, a weak government.. The number of guns per owner has increased from 2.1 in 1997 to 3.9 in 2019 – meaning there are now more guns in Australia (3.9m in 2017) than at the time the shootings occurred in 1996.

Experts believe there are other glaring shortcomings in current laws, but they also lament a lack of political will to counter pro-gun interests, meaning further crackdowns are unlikely “until we see the consequences of a shooting”. Ammunition for restricted guns is also able to be purchased in some jurisdictions, while a 28-day cooling off-period for a second gun purchase has been dropped in NSW, Tasmania (the state where the shooting took place!,) Western Australia and other states.

Age limits for shooting at a range have decreased from 18 in some states, and there is no age limit at all in Western Australia, according to Gun Control Australia.

Remember too that this is a country where all police carry guns but rarely use them, however, many in this nation are just waiting for the next tragic incident in a nation that is usually at peace with itself.