US mocks Australia over shooting

 

US media, pro-gun groups and an army of social media commenters have taken aim at Australia's firearm ownership laws in the wake of Darwin's horrific mass shooting.

Pro-gun website Firearm Owners United said the tragic shooting that killed four people showed a "failure of firearm and self-defence laws" in Australia.

"All this has proven yet again is that illegal firearms are accessible to anyone in Australia who wants one, mass killings will continue to happen and police can't protect you from these incidents," read the website.

This viewpoint has been backed up by countless firearm enthusiasts from around the world, who have posted comments on social media, saying things like: "Crikey, mate … how them gun laws workin out for you."

 

 

US media outlets joined in the debate, citing statistics that appear to show gun ownership is rising in Australia.

The New York Times reported that Australia has been "gradually loosening its laws in recent years, and gun sales are increasing".

"Those who own guns, own more guns - in some cases, 100 or more," the publication reported. "Sales of semiautomatic handguns, which are not as regulated as rifles, have skyrocketed."

As an example, the reporter adds that in the Northern Territory, the number of privately owned firearms increased to almost 64,000 in 2014 from less than 47,000 in 2007.

US broadcaster CNN also played into the critical narrative, with a headline on the Darwin shooting which reads: "Australia reels from worst rampage killing in decades for a country thought to have solved this issue."

The alleged Darwin shooter Ben Hoffman is understood to have used an illegal sawn-off shotgun. Picture: Facebook
The alleged Darwin shooter Ben Hoffman is understood to have used an illegal sawn-off shotgun. Picture: Facebook

However, one of Australia's leading gun experts hit back at the criticism of our laws and told news.com.au statistics show a very different story, when closely examined.

Associate Professor Philip Alpers, the director of GunPolicy.org at the University of Sydney's school of public health, said the pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun used by alleged Darwin shooter Ben Hoffmann to cause carnage on Tuesday night was illegal under the national firearms agreement.

Northern Territory police said the firearm was possibly stolen as long ago as 1997.

Professor Alpers said police "almost always" find that the guns they seize have been manufactured and imported legally before being legitimately sold to a lawful firearm owner.

However, he said these guns should have been turned into the police after the national firearms agreement signed by the states and territories after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

"That gun (the shotgun used in Darwin) should have been handed in and destroyed after Port Arthur by the original owner, but for some reason they have decided not to or neglected to do that," said Professor Alpers.

The alleged Darwin gunman may be charged today. Picture: Keri Megelus
The alleged Darwin gunman may be charged today. Picture: Keri Megelus

He said the buybacks and amnesties that have taken place since 1996 have been successful but, in essence, we're all still playing catch-up from our gun-loving legacy.

Around 23 years ago, he says Australia was importing 250,000 guns a year - racking up to an estimated 3.2 million guns lying in Aussie homes by 1996.

And, many of these guns have an extraordinarily long shelf life.

"Some of these guns were manufactured for the Boar War (1899-1902), and they will still work today if they are cared for properly," he said.

"So, authorities have been trying to mop this up for 23 years by destroying over a million firearms since 1996 - but there's still a long way to go."

Professor Alpers said many of those gun owners who handed their illegal rapid-fire firearms over for cash in a buyback used the money to buy a new single shot weapon, legally and for perfectly legitimate reasons.

We've also legally imported one million single shot guns since 1996, according to GunPolicy.org.

So, although it's possible there are more guns in Australia than there were in 1996, Professor Alpers says the population increase since then means rate of firearm ownership is now 23 per cent lower, per capita.

Australia’s gun laws have been hailed as a success by many. Picture: Derrick Krusche
Australia’s gun laws have been hailed as a success by many. Picture: Derrick Krusche

It also looks like there has been a great leap in prosecutions for illegal gun ownership, but Professor Alpers said this is actually a good sign - because police forces have set up specialist task forces since 1996 to crack down on illicit owners, meaning the arrests have gone up.

He added the national firearms agreement has been an overwhelming success in saving lives, as you are now almost 50 per cent less likely to be killed by a gun in Australia.

Despite rival claims from other nations such as Singapore, which implements the death penalty for firearm importation, and the UK, which goes a step further than us by banning all handguns, Professor Alpers said that Australia still had the best "suite" of gun laws in the world.

This led him to hit out at the pro-gun groups, like as the NRA, that say firearm crimes like Darwin's horrific shooting proved that criminals just ignore laws - meaning there should be fewer restrictions on law-abiding citizens owning weapons.

"You may as well say you should have no laws against drink-driving because people drink-drive, or against murder because people murder," he said.

The shooting in Darwin has also has raised questions about why the alleged gunman was released in January after serving a non-parole period of four years of his six-year sentence, given his extensive criminal history.

The Darwin shooting has also raised questions about the criminal justice system. Picture: Glenn Campbell
The Darwin shooting has also raised questions about the criminal justice system. Picture: Glenn Campbell

Chief Minister Michael Gunner has asked for a report from the Parole Board on Hoffmann and another review of all people currently on parole and on electronic monitoring.

NT Commissioner for Corrections Scott McNairn said his department had recommended Hoffmann get parole.

"We take reasoned decisions in terms of how we balance risk and those individuals are thoroughly risk assessed before we make any decision," he said.

Hoffman had previously breached parole by breaking curfew, for which he was given a 14-day custodial sentence in late April.

When Hoffmann was jailed in 2015, his victim Hussain Garling - who was bashed with a baseball bat in front of his infant son - told the court he "needs to be put away for a very long time, because he will do worse to someone next time".

The parole report and the review is expected to be completed by the end of next week.


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