Australia's gun laws ‘non-negotiable’, says Turnbull on Port Arthur massacre anniversary

Prime minister hails National Firearms Agreement as ‘one of John Howard’s greatest achievements’ 20 years after massacre prompted a massive overhaul of gun laws

Malcolm Turnbull has defended the integrity of Australia’s gun laws in Hobart ahead of a commemorative service marking the 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre, saying that maintaining a strong stance on firearms was “non-negotiable”.

Thirty-five people were killed in the massacre which centred around the Port Arthur former convict site on 28 April, 1996. It is the largest massacre by a lone gunman in Australia and prompted a massive overhaul of the country’s gun laws to both restrict the type of weapons available to single-shot long-guns, with some very specific exceptions, and require that people have a lawful purpose for owning a firearm.

“Port Arthur is shocking national tragedy, a reminder of how fragile life is, how vulnerable we are, and how precious life is,” Turnbull told 7HO FM radio in Hobart on Thursday.

“It was also a time of great solidarity ... The National Firearms Agreement was one of John Howard’s greatest achievements, and it kept Australians safe ever since.”

A commemorative service was held at the Port Arthur grounds at 12.30pm on Thursday, and a candlelit vigil was scheduled for Melbourne that night.

The National Firearms Agreement, which saw uniform gun laws introduced within six months of the massacre, is under review. Gun control advocates say the integrity of the legislation has been threatened by the importation of firearms like the Adler A110 lever-action shotgun, which meets the description of a class A firearm, the category with the fewest restrictions under Australian law, but fires as quickly as a class C pump-action shotgun.

The former prime minister Tony Abbott placed a temporary ban on the seven-shot version of the Adler in July, but more than 7,000 modified five-shot weapons have since been imported.

Turnbull said he would discuss the review with the Tasmanian premier, Will Hodgman, but that it would not undermine the laws.

“There is consultation about it but there has been no change of it,” he said. “They always have to be reviewed but one thing is non-negotiable: we must continue to maintain a strong and responsible stance on guns, through the National Firearms Agreement, which has kept Australia safe, and you only need to look at what happens in other countries [to see why that is necessary]”.

Turnbull said he had a gun licence as a primary producer (he and wife Lucy own a farm in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales) and said a commonsense approach to responsible gun use and ownership was “a critical part of our safety”.

Data released by, an initiative of University of Sydney public health academic Philip Alpers, on Thursday found that more firearms had been imported to Australia in the 20 years since 1996 than were destroyed following the reforms.

Alpers said 1.026m firearms had been imported since 1996, replacing the cache of about a million that were melted down in the national buy-back scheme.

However Australia’s population increased by 25% over the same period, so the number of firearms per capita actually decreased by 23%.

Alpers said there were also fewer licensed gun owners, with gun owners now more likely to own multiple guns.

The data, collected from Australian customs, showed the 2014-15 financial year set a record for firearms imports, with 104,323 guns being brought in.

Alpers said the gun lobby had been steadily working to erode Australia’s gun laws since 1996, and said cases like the Adler showed gun manufacturers could design a rapid-fire shotgun to fit Australian restrictions.

“What’s happening now actually explains how Howard got away with what he did by doing it in 12 days,” Alpers said. “If you allow a period of consultation, the consultant bodies, the people who walk into your office, are always controlled by gun owners.”

Alpers, who is frequently criticised by shooters’ groups, said the gun lobby controlled the conversation by insisting that only those who were knowledgeable about guns had a voice.

“It’s like saying that a road safety committee is not allowed to hear from pedestrians,” he said.

The president of the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia, Geoff Jones, dismissed the import data as “outlandish and amateur research findings by a known anti-gun lobbyist” and said the increase in gun imports could have been caused by the high Australian dollar.

“The mining boom saw well-paid workers who had the time and finances to take up a new hobby embrace the safe, fun and all-abilities sport of shooting,” Jones said.

Jones also said concern that gun laws had been watered down was “questionable” because there had been “no clear example given demonstrating that the public is somehow at risk because of any changes to regulations surrounding law-abiding firearm owners”.


Calla Wahlquist and Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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