Slaughter sparks call for federal gun laws

from page 3 of The Australian, April 29, 1996

by John Ellicot, Katherine Glascott and AAP

  The Federal Attorney-General and Justice Minister, Mr Williams, last night described the Port Arthur massacre as an "appalling tragedy" and has undertaken to press for changes to gun laws.
  Mr Williams's reaction came as the gun control lobby called for immediate federal intervention to bring in a national gun code and the Australian Medical Association called for an urgent national summit.
  A spokeswoman for Mr Williams said he would place gun laws on the agenda at the police ministers council meeting in July.
  "Gun controls are a State and territory responsibility and some States have been reluctant to impose restrictions that the Commonwealth regards as appropiate," the spokeswoman quoted him as saying.
  She said he supported uniform gun laws and greater restriction on the types of weapons available and who can get them.
  "There is no justificiation of the private ownership of military weapons," he said.
  However, the Shooters Party spokesman and NSW MLC, Mr John Tingle, said tighter gun laws would not stop massacres such as yesterday's.
  Mr Tingle said that although gun laws in Tasmania were "a joke" -- you could own a machine gun for life with a $30 licence -- tighter gun laws would only affect law-abiding citizens.
  "Tighter gun laws in NSW didn't stop the Terrigal and Crescent Head shootings," he said, adding he would support greater checking of people seeking gun licences.
  A Coalition for Gun Control member, Associate Professor Simon Chapman, said the uniform laws should ban private ownership of semi-automatic rifles and introduce steep annual licence and registration fees and far tougher guidelines on who can own firearms.
  "The Prime Minister, Mr Howard, must take immediate action and show leadership to prevent Australia going further down the American road of increasing levels of gun violence," he said.
  The gun control coalition's Tasmanian co-ordinator, Mr Roland Browne, said Tasmania had the slackest gun laws in Australia and high-powered and semi-automatic rifles were advertised for sale in Tasmanian newspapers "every weekend".
  Mr Browne said Tasmania's laws were a legacy of the rural sector and both the Liberal and Labor parties had pandered to the gun lobby.
  Mr Brown wrote to the Hobart Mercury newspaper in March warning of a Dunblane-style massacre in Tasmania unless the gun laws were changed.
  "We've got the weakest laws in the country, there are no controls on military style high-power weapons, no registration of guns and weak licencing requirements.
  "Even up until 1993 it was just open slather."
  Professor Chapman said State governments in Tasmania, NSW and Queensland, which have no gun registration, were cowering in political fear of the gun lobby "while the whole community waits anxiously for the inevitable incidents like (yesterday's)".
  He said bipartisan political support for uniform strong gun laws was long overdue but unlikely "while gutless State politicians keep on referring gun slaughter to backroom committees".
  The vice-president of the AMA and organiser of a national forum on firearm safety, Dr Keith Woolard, has urged a planned national summit for July be immediately brought forward.
  "The summit should include all parties including gun control and gun lobbies. We've got to do something -- this carnage has got to be stopped," he said.
  "It's an issue John Howard has to lead on. It's distressing and upsetting to all Australians.
  "The level of gun violence could clearly be reduced if we can ensure that having a gun is a privelege and that everyone who owns a gun behaves like a responsible gun owner.
  "But certainly in terms of many of the deaths that occur from guns it's very likely that if we do have national tougher gun laws then we will substantially cut the death rate from guns."
  He said Australia had the second highest gun death rate after the United States -- "a rate that we should be ashamed of".
  There were more than 500 gun-related deaths in Australia every year.

[images: "Police, rescue workers and ambulance crew attend to victims of the gunman's indiscriminate rampage outside the Broad Arrow cafe soon after the shootings yesterday." (28x13)
"A medical team surrounds a victim on arrival at Royal Hobart Hospital -- Picture: Fred Kohl" (14x10)
"Armed special operations police officers move in at the scene -- Picture: Robin Lane" (14x10) ]

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