First published by The Hoopla, 18 December 2014
This wouldn’t have happened in Texas. That’s what pro-guns Senator David Leyonhjelm has said today, calling Australia “a nation of victims” because they are not able to defend themselves with guns.
The Liberal Democrats senator told ABC radio today that “one or two” of the hostages probably would have had a concealed weapon, and that Man Haron Monis wouldn’t have known they were armed: “bad guys don’t like to be shot back at” he said.
While Leyonhjelm’s sentiment has been widely rejected as nonsense today, it was one that was canvassed in the wake of the Port Arthur Massacre nearly two decades ago – “if only someone in the cafe had a gun, so many people might not have died” according to gun violence expert Associate Professor Philip Alpers.
Earlier this week calls to arm Australian citizens came mainly from the USA, and mainly on the Fox News Network.
Conservative pundit Charles Hurt told Fox News:
“Most Americans, when they see this stuff play out … they think about guns and it is why they think about personal gun ownership and being able to protect yourself, protect your family and protect your neighbours,” Hunt said.
“I absolutely expect that to come from America,” Alpers told The Hoopla. “It’s the society that believes the correct response to Sandy Hook [the 2012 massacre that cost 20 children and six adults their lives] is to arm the teachers.
“But accepting the US pro-guns position is akin to taking seriously something that ISIS says,” Alpers says.
Fairfax quoted the newly-elected Victorian upper house MP, The Shooters and Fishers Party’s Jeffrey Bourman, who argued yesterday that Australia’s gun laws and registration are ineffectual.
“Registration, as far as I can tell, is actually completely ineffectual. A known criminal got hold of a gun, it’s as simple as that,” Bourman told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Registration did not prevent that.”
In contrast, The Australian Women’s Weekly associate editor Caroline Overington tweeted on Tuesday: “He [Monis] did not have a more lethal gun – and this is surely John Howard’s most precious legacy. Thank you.”
Overington’s handful of characters spoke a truth that seems borne out by Alpers’ years of research.
Alpers found that after 700,000 guns were destroyed in Howard’s gun amnesty and buy back scheme, the risk of an Australian dying by gunshot fell by more than half.
And in contrast to the 112 deaths in 11 mass shootings in the decade leading up to the Port Arthur massacre, we’ve seen no such mass shootings in the years since, Alpers remarked last year.
“In its scope and size, Australia’s public health effort to reduce the risk of gun violence led the world,” he said.
After Port Arthur Howard co-ordinated law reforms in all states and territories in Australia banning the legal ownership and use of self-loading rifles, self-loading and pump-action shotguns (with some very narrow exemptions), and heavily tightened controls on their legal use.
Anyone applying for a gun owner’s licence in Australia must now establish a genuine reason to possess a firearm – for example hunting, target shooting, pest control, and some narrow occupational uses.
And anyone applying for a firearm licence in Australia is also subject to a 28-day waiting period, and must pass a background check that considers factors such as criminal and domestic violence records and mental and physical fitness.
While the facts about the moments that led to the tragic deaths in Martin Place are still unclear, and while speculation remains about how Monis could be in possession of a gun and whether he had a licence, there seems little doubt that the mood for more guns has shifted in the years since Port Arthur.
“It just occurred to me this morning, is this where Australia is now?” Alpers said. “We see things like the #illridewithyou campaign: maybe something has changed?”
Meanwhile Tim Fisher, the former National Party leader and deputy PM who worked with John Howard to toughen gun laws in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre this morning hit back at Leyonhjelm’s stance.
“It is absolute NRA-type seductive nonsense, and I would make the point you are ten times more safe, by any reckoning, per capita here in Australia that in the USA.
“Debate will always go on in a good democracy, but where it is built on a pack of lies from the NRA it should be dealt with swiftly. It is seductive nonsense.”