Editorial: Don't heed shooters

from page 18 of The Mercury, May 1, 1996

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  Sporting Shooters Association of Australia national president Ted Drane, in response to the Port Arthur massacre, said: "We won't... support or tolerate any knee-jerk reaction to this tragedy."
  Mr Drane may speak for some -- not all -- sporting shooters. He does not speak for the majority of Australians.
  The majority of Australians will not only support and tolerate knee-jerk reactions -- in this instance, they will demand it.
  They will demand an end to firearm legislation which has allowed the sale of military-style weapons.
  They will demand an end to the political lack of will which had allowed the firearm lobby to assume more power than it deserves.
  They will demand that the Federal Government take control of the debate and, despite the constitutional niceties, not walk away from the negotiating table until legislation is agreed which makes the community feel safer.
  They will demand uniform national legislation on firearms so that weapons of certain types banned in one state cannot be bought in another.
  It is to Tasmania's shame that it is now under the national -- even international -- spotlight for having what are said to be the weakest firearm laws in this country.
  It may well be the case that had the laws in Tasmania been made tougher when they were first introduced, the dreadful evil which occured at Port Arthur would not have been averted.
  After all, the legislation as it stands -- as weak and as flawed as its critics say -- is being ignored by many otherwise law-abiding Tasmanians. They have firearms and they have not taken out licences.
  Had the laws been framed to satisfy most who have demanded more rigorous controls on firearms, there is no reason to doubt that they would have been ignored by some.
  However, the point of having tougher controls on firearms -- their use, their storage, their registration -- is not so much about immediate impact, it is about influencing a culture.
  Their are some in Tasmania who believe they have a cultural right to free use of firearms and that any government imposed restriction is an attack on their personal freedom.
  This culture must be changed by education. The first step is legislation.
  Changes can be made. Those who doubt this should reflect on the fact that bear baiting and cock fighting were once part of the British culture. They are no longer.
  The changes should be led by our politicians.
  They should not be ashamed of being accused by the ignorant of indulging in "knee-jerk reactions".
  When it comes down to firearm legislation reforms, it will not be a "knee-jerk" response, but a long overdue acknowledgement of genuine and long-held fears by many about access in this community to high-powered rifles, particularly those which are semi-automatics.
  It would be cowardice for any politician, through inaction, to try to dodge being accused of "knee-jerk reactions".
  It would be to fail in their responsibility to those who are sick of the killing.

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