Insight – 8.30pm Tuesday, 5 April on SBS
28 April 2016 marks 20 years since the Port Arthur massacre. On that day, a lone gunman stalked through the Tasmanian historic site and its surrounds, killing 35 people and injuring 18 others.
The incident sparked sweeping changes to Australia’s gun ownership laws, changes that have been mostly heralded as a ground-breaking example of effective gun control legislation.
Since the Howard Government pushed for the laws, gun-related deaths have dropped from around 600 per year in the almost 20 years prior to Port Arthur, to around 230 in 2014.
Despite the drop, firearms continue to destroy lives: Alpha Cheng’s father, Curtis, was killed as he left work at Parramatta police headquarters by a 15-year-old boy; Michelle Fernando’s sister, suffering from mental illness, managed to get a probationary licence from a gun club before killing their father.
On the other hand, recreational gun users and farmers argue the laws are too tight, demonising and disproportionately affecting the majority of legal gun owners in the country who go through rigorous checks before obtaining a firearm.
So, is enough or too much being done to control guns in Australia? How should the current government act?
Insight tackles this highly emotional issue with special guest, former Prime Minister John Howard.
John Howard – Former Prime Minister of Australia
“Sometimes you don’t have any alternative but to bring in a blanket law that catches the innocent and the responsible as well as the venal, and you have to be willing to do that.”
Carol Loughton – Port Arthur survivor
“I thought to myself, we’re going to die here. This is where I die now, this is it.”
Robert Brown – Shooters and Fishers Party MLC (NSW)
“Even though I’m here advocating for firearms, I do it out of a genuine belief that the laws that were created under the National Firearms Agreement in all of the states in Australia, at that time, weren’t well structured. I don’t think they were properly done.”
Justin Noble – Port Arthur survivor, former police officer
“I knew the gun but I didn’t know the potential of the individual … straight away it was kicking in and moving people offsite, evacuating people. I was running around yelling at people to get out of sight and hide in the bush.”
Alpha Cheng – Alpha’s Father Curtis was shot outside Parramatta police headquarters
“My dad often joked that he worked in the safest building in Sydney. So I guess there’s some real dark irony there, but then it shows that it was never something that we were concerned about and part of that is because of the policies the Howard government brought in.”
Graham Park – Farmer
“Instead of a consultative way, they took an approach where they effectively started to demonise firearm owners, to attack them as if they were the problem. When you’re using something every day in your job or recreationally, and someone starts treating you like a potential murderer, you naturally take offence. “
David Shoebridge – Greens Party MLC (NSW)
“What we saw was a moment of political courage and principle. I’m a Greens MP and there’s not much that I agree with John Howard on … But what we actually saw then was a political leader doing what they’re paid to do.”