For a whole generation of young Australians, gun control and gun violence has not been an issue.
Australia’s gun laws are the envy of the rest of the world and anyone born after 1996 wouldn’t know otherwise. This is because in the wake of a national tragedy, we saw genuine political courage from all governments in Australia that implemented the National Firearms Agreement (NFA).
The NFA was Australia’s response to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre; it was an unimaginable tragedy, but a turning point in our gun control laws. It produced a national gun buyback and a uniform set of firearms laws for every Australian state and territory. It’s the only Howard policy I support.
Don't you be so reckless
The 1996 agreement was a groundbreaking political moment that dramatically reduced the numbers of guns in circulation and put in place a prohibition on automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. It classified weapons into categories so that more dangerous weapons are prohibited from use or restricted to certain kinds of licenses. It also made it a universal requirement across Australia for people to establish they had a “good reason” to get a gun. Unlike in America, self-defense is not a valid reason and there is no “right to bear arms”. In our system owning a gun is a privilege not a right.
The National Firearms Agreement is what has kept AR-15s — the guns used in massacres at Port Arthur, Orlando, Sandy Hook and Aurora — off our streets for 20 years. So why would anybody want to tear it down?
With a growing number of pro-gun MPs in Parliaments across this country it is more important than ever that Greens stick up for our founding principle of peace and nonviolence. Because working against us are MPs who plan to weaken our gun laws and tear down the National Firearms Agreement. Whether it’s the National Party, the Shooters Party or the likes of David Lleyonhjelm, their bizarre ‘logic’ is the same — they say that the only answer to gun violence is ... more guns.
Bullets flyin', mothers cryin'
Many of them openly support the aggressive lobbying from the NRA, the American National Rifle Association. They want easier access to pump and lever action shotguns, weakened safe storage laws and to water down protections that keep guns out of the hands of people with apprehended domestic violence orders. We cannot let them succeed.
It’s not just us that thinks this: the importance of Australia’s gun laws was constantly stressed to us when at the end of 2016 we undertook a fact finding tour of America. We wanted to see how people over there were responding to their even more aggressive gun lobby and the horrifically frequent mass shootings that country has become known for.
Everywhere we went, people identified Australia's National Firearms Agreement, or NFA, as the rolled gold model for gun control. They want what we have and they can’t believe it is being challenged.
Peace in the hood
The Greens know that the overwhelming majority of Australians support our gun control laws, but few are aware that they need to defend them. Even fewer know that the Labor Party and the Liberal National Coalition are willing to trade them away in deals with pro-gun MPs.
As Greens MPs, it’s our job to always stand up for safe gun laws, not just to defend them but to strengthen them.
One of the reasons most members of Parliament, even those who support gun control, aren’t willing to speak up is because the gun lobby is a large, highly organised group who are extremely aggressive in defending their “rights.”
When our office launched the TooManyGuns website we were inundated with aggressive phone calls, Facebook posts and emails. We just told the truth about gun numbers.
The fact is in NSW we are heading towards 1,000,000 registered guns by 2020. There are over 100 postcodes with more than 2,400 guns and more than 100 individuals with private arsenals of between 70 and 320 guns.
The broader community was quite rightly shocked, and the gun lobby didn’t like this. So they doubled down on-line and attacked our office.
This did not deter us, and it won’t stop us from standing up for peace and nonviolence.
Soon we’ll be updating the TooManyGuns website with the most up to date set of figures, and expanding the website to include gun numbers across the country. We are already prepping for the backlash. We do this because we have visited families and communities in America who have lost so much - children, friends, and loved ones to gun violence. We will not let this happen here on our watch.
What we do in Australia on gun control matters. It saves lives and it is a beacon of hope to other countries that they too can end gun violence. Wherever we went in America there was one consistent call that has stayed with us "Australia, please stay strong on gun laws". As a Greens MP, this is something I am proud to commit to.
David Shoebridge is a NSW MLC and the NSW Greens spokesperson on Firearms and the Game Council (including hunting on public land).