Australian gun reform leader urges Trump to 'get real'

2017-10-04 12:41
University of Nevada Las Vegas students take part in a vigil for the victims of the massacre. (Gregory Bull, AP)

University of Nevada Las Vegas students take part in a vigil for the victims of the massacre. (Gregory Bull, AP)

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Sydney - The former politician who helped win over a hostile Australian pro-gun lobby to the idea of massive weapons reform says the overwhelming success of the change should serve as an example for American politicians in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre.

Tim Fischer, who was deputy prime minister at the time of Australia's worst mass shooting, when lone gunman Martin Bryant slaughtered 35 people at Port Arthur, Tasmania, in April 1996, urged Donald Trump to "get real" and make lasting change on the issue part of his legacy as president.

"I'm sick of hearing people say after gun massacres in the US that now is not the time to debate gun control. Now is the perfect time," Fischer told the Associated Press on Wednesday, days after 59 people were killed in the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.

The 1996 massacre in Tasmania came only seven weeks after a coalition Australian government, led by Liberal Party Prime Minister John Howard, had taken office, and sparked a radical step by the new administration.

The government banned automatic and semi-automatic firearms, and instituted a buyback scheme in which civilians would be paid to hand in such newly illegal weapons.

More than 600 000 civilian-owned guns were bought and destroyed by the government, at a cost of half a billion Australian dollars. 

Another three-month amnesty has just concluded in which civilians handed in more than 25 000 illegal guns without fear of prosecution. While it did not involve a government buyback, owners were allowed to sell their weapons to licensed firearms dealers.

Despite the early opposition, the reforms were implemented in only a matter of months.

NRA

In the 18-year period before the gun reforms, Australia had 13 shootings in which at least five victims were killed. Since the reforms, it has had none.

Fischer said on Wednesday that while US gun reform is seen by many as an intractable problem, it's within Trump's power to institute fundamental change, despite the opposition of pro-gun groups such as the National Rifle Association.

"The NRA can be stared down on this," he said.

"Mr Trump has a great chance to put together a very careful set of words, and put down a marker on this very important issue," he added.

Fischer conceded that tackling the problem in the U.S. presents a larger challenge than it did in Australia, with an estimated 310 million guns spread among the American population, and a right to bear arms enshrined in the Constitution.

However, he said substantial gun reform in the US is still achievable, based on public campaigns to win over opponents.

Fischer said that a government buyback of guns would be extremely costly in the US, but that now is Trump's chance to "put down a marker" on gun reform, including drastically tightening background checks for firearms purchasers.

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