20 years on from Port Arthur

Posted 12 May 2016

Around the world, Australia is known for a number of different features, from its amazing scenery to the fantastic working opportunities, such as its market for legal jobs. However, it is also being recognised as having some of the best gun control laws in the world.

Take for instance, John Oliver's interview with Rob Borbidge for a Daily Show segment on American gun control. He talked to the the former premier of Queensland about his role in the sweeping changes that came following the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996. The satirical show pointed out that America has a lot to learn from the Australian government, which was headed by John Howard at the time.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, the former prime minister said that he couldn't believe something of that magnitude could happen in Australia.

"How did I react? I immediately focused on what I could do. It seemed to me that I had to do something big because it was such an awful tragedy," he said.

2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the incident that changed the face of Australia's relationship with firearms. So what has happened since then and what will the future hold for gun control in Australia?

Unlike many other activities, gun ownership is controlled at a federal level. Following the 1996 incident, the states and territories agreed on a uniform approach to firearms regulation, which included a ban on semiautomatic and self-loading rifles as well as shotguns.

Alongside the legislation that stemmed from the National Firearms Agreement, those in government legal jobs also implemented a national buyback scheme that saw over 700,000 weapons surrendered to authorities.

In 2002, the Australian Police Ministers Council agreed on a number of resolutions in relation to handguns and trafficking policies. These measures along with a buy-back programme saw over 70,000 hand guns and parts surrendered.

However, there is an argument that over the course of the last two decades, the level of gun ownership has increased. In a report delivered to the Australian parliament, the Crime Prevention Research Center pointed out that while the measures reduced the number of guns from 3.2 million to 2.2 million, the total number was back to 1996 levels by 2010.

Most recently, there has been a debate over the legality of the Adler shotguns that been imported into Australia, with the Guardian reporting more than 7,000 had entered Australia despite former Prime Minister Tony Abbott banning imports for at least six months.

For government officials, finding a legislative strategy that balances the freedom to own firearms and its citizen's safety is going to be a tough ask. However, with the Port Arthur legacy to look back on, the government has a strong incentive to get it right.