Chance for meaningful gun reform

IN THE wake of the Connecticut school massacre, the US appears headed for a controversy over gun law reform similar to that endured in Australia after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

US President Barack Obama has spoken of "meaningful reform" and has identified two key elements: the availability of assault weapons and the level of background checks on licence applicants.

Reform was hard enough for former Australian prime minister John Howard, in spite of the Port Arthur tragedy.

The US constitution includes a second amendment, guaranteeing the right to bear arms - a totally outdated provision from the era of a fledgling colonial nation state in 1791, created by a war of independence.

The second amendment has little relevance in the US today, but sadly its legal status has been upheld by courts in recent years.

There are more than 200 million firearms owned or used in the US, with a population of 340 million.

Some put the number as high as 300 million, along with almost 130,000 licensed gun dealerships.

In Australia less than 10 per cent of the population owns or uses about 770,000 firearms for hunting, target shooting, vermin control and collecting.

Mr Obama is well positioned to take on the US pro-gun lobby, given the terminal nature of his second term, without having to worry about another election. He foreshadowed gun law reform when first elected in 2008 but nothing eventuated.

In 1996 John Howard, at the beginning of a three-year term and with an election landslide under his belt, was able to take on the pro-gun lobby and his National Party allies, in order to enact tough gun law reform with the states. More than 630,000 firearms were surrendered.

Mr Obama is using commonsense language. It is not about disarming people. It is about making sure that only eligible people have access to firearms.

Thankfully, in Tasmania police checks in the home on the ownership and storage of firearms are routine, as they should be.

But yesterday's tragic events at Hamilton are a reminder that we must remain vigilant.

It could be easy for gun laws to be relaxed, as events like the Port Arthur massacre slip further into history.

- BARRY PRISMALL, deputy editor

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