We must never become complacent about our gun control laws. Restrictions on the types of guns we can buy and possess are just as important now as they were in 1996 following the horror of the Port Arthur massacre. Each time we take a collective gasp at the news of the latest mass shooting in the United States of America we also take solace in the fact that it could not happen here and, like many Americans, we do not need to fear losing our loved ones—our husband, partner, colleagues or children—to the mindlessness of gun crime every time they leave the house. Our gun control laws have become a hallmark of who we are as a country. We understand that the principal right we have as Australians is the right to feel safe, that the answer to violence is not further violence, and that there is no need for anyone in our community to have access to the kinds of automatic and semi‑automatic weapons that can be purchased in an American supermarket.
Former Prime Minister John Howard's gun control laws were courageous, appropriate and necessary. I remember the shock and sense of dread that descended on the nation in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre. Thirty-five Australians were killed, including children, and a further 23 were wounded. The shooter, who was using an AR-15 rifle with a 30-shot magazine, was able to kill 12 people in 15 seconds. Even though we had seen gun crimes in the past, none in recent memory compared to this massacre. As a country we not only shared a collective sense of grief but also looked openly and honestly at how this was able to occur. This one event proved to be a fork in the road and, to his great credit, John Howard took us down the path of greater control, greater responsibility and a safer Australia. He banned automatic and semi-automatic long guns. He also introduced the national buyback scheme, which destroyed 650,000 firearms—the gun amnesties raised that figure to one million.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that the buyback reduced suicides by firearms by 67 per cent in the decade following the ban. Firearms assaults also declined, although not consistently each year. Most importantly, Australia has not had a single mass shooting since the ban was introduced. However, it is easy for us to become complacent about the protections afforded by our gun laws. Like all such protections, they were hard won but could be easily lost. Four Australian States have moved to rescind the 28-day cooling off period for purchasing a gun, which is concerning. Recent revelations show that some Australians have accumulated arsenals of firearms—one owner in New South Wales has registered more than 322 firearms. Indeed, one study conducted by the University of Sydney shows that the number of guns has returned to levels comparable to those before the buyback. Critically, there have been moves to reclassify the seven-shot Adler, including by prominent members of this House. The Adler lies outside the Howard ban because it was classified as a self-loading shotgun, although in effect it operates automatically because it allows eight shells to be fired in eight seconds.
Abbott banned the seven-shot gun following the Sydney siege, yet New South Wales Nationals members had to be pulled into line by the Premier. Thankfully, despite allegations the Prime Minister bartered restrictions of the Adler to pass his Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation, the status quo has, rightly, prevailed.
The debate has revealed a concerning complacency around gun control. Australia is held up as an example of how a nation can work together to keep the community safe. We have come way too far to revert to weak restrictions that put guns into the hands of those who do not need them. Our laws are a powerful testament to the collective grief we shared after Port Arthur. We must not betray that grief and dilute these laws. They were enacted in the name of those we lost that day, and in the names of all those who have died from gun crime.