Tanya Plibersek: Australia's strong gun laws are at risk.

In her latest column for Mamamia, Tanya Plibersek explains how our gun control laws are at risk of being watered down.

Every Australian over a certain age can remember where they were when they heard about the Port Arthur massacre in 1996. Thirty-five lives were cut tragically short.

It was a shocking event. It was not the first mass spree shooting in Australia, but it was by far the worst.

Martin Bryant. The man behind Australia’s first shooting massacre.

In John Howard’s best moment as Prime Minister, he used this national tragedy to do something good and noble. He dragged some meaning from the senseless loss of life at Port Arthur by making it harder to get a gun in Australia.

John Howard’s courageous gun control measures were unpopular with many, and controversial, but they have undoubtedly been successful.

While Australia still has too many murders, suicides, and threats using guns, we have not had a mass spree shooting since 1996.

John Howard speaking in 1996 on gun control.

We should be grateful for this brave and successful measure, and we should defend and protect our people by making sure we keep gun control strong.

We felt a little pride when John Oliver used Australia’s successful gun-control laws to satirically skewer America’s difficulty in coming to terms with the same common-sense safety measures. President Obama has cited Australia’s laws as an example of what works as he struggles to tighten gun laws in the US.

You can watch John Oliver praising Australia’s gun control here: (Post continues after video.)

Video via Comedy Central

We must not take our success, or our safety, for granted.

The technical elements of the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) are currently being reviewed with a view to being updated, as was recommended by the Martin Place Siege Review. As part of this, the appropriate classification of lever action shotguns, particularly those with a magazine capacity of more than five rounds, is being considered.

Under the current National Firearms Agreement, lever action shotguns with a magazine capacity of five rounds or less are a category A, which means they are available to Australia’s 700,000 licensed recreational shooters. Critics have said that technological improvements mean that new lever-action shotguns like the Adler 110, which can shoot multiple rounds in rapid succession, is faster and more powerful than other models of firearms and should require the more restrictive category C licence.

Tanya Plibersek.

The government suspended importation of the Adler 110 with a magazine capacity of seven rounds, but agreed to allow it into Australia next year after Senator David Leyonhjelm – who thinks people who support gun control have a “psychological condition” – made it a condition of his support for the Government’s migration legislation a few months ago. Further, they are yet to stop the importation of a modified version of the gun with a magazine capacity of five.

This article by The Economist graphically demonstrates the correlation between the number of guns per head of population and the number of murders. The United States, with around three times as many civilian firearms per person as Canada, has around three times as many homicides in proportion to population, as well. And as this shows, more guns in society also means more suicides.

There is no greater responsibility of a government than to keep its people safe. Limiting and controlling access to firearms demonstrably does just that. We must not relax our vigilance or allow our laws to be undermined.

The Hon. Tanya Plibersek MP is Deputy Opposition Leader and the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.