If you believe what you have read over the past few days, you could be forgiven for thinking Australia has a gun problem.

That is what you are meant to think, because if you feel nervous about guns then you might not look too deeply into what is really going on.

The truth is that Australia does not have a gun problem. Australia has a politics problem.

Gun gun law rhetoric in 21st Century Australia has nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with political one-upmanship. The smoke and mirrors and ‘look over there!’ of gun laws to distract from other government issues is the political version of crack, and our politicians are addicted.

The extent to which a government bloviates about legal gun ownership is a direct measure of how much it want to divert attention away from its shortcomings on other fronts, such as the skyrocketing cost of living, a crippling housing shortage and badly overstressed infrastructure.

“Tough on guns” posturing has no real depth or meaning. It is just a way to avoid unfilled space in the media, that might otherwise contain awkward criticism of politicians’ (in)ability to know what matters to everyday people – let alone deliver real outcomes.

“Tough on guns” is a cynical political game, and this is blatant as we head into the next Police Ministers’ meeting. The Labor Party’s left and right factions are waging internal warfare at Federal and State levels.

There is no piece of ‘wokery’ so ludicrous that the left will not adopt it in the misplaced hope it might woo a handful of inner-city seats. Meanwhile, Labor’s right are looking around the outer suburbs and regions and panicking as their once-safe seats become marginal.

It is no coincidence that as the Labor left has exerted more and more policy dominance, Labor’s vote has collapsed in its traditional heartland. Labor’s right know full well any further moves on legal gun ownership will go down like a lead balloon, being seen as capitulating yet again to the out-of-touch elite’s disdain for working-class pursuits.

Meanwhile, the left know if they do not get what they want on guns, then as another failure hot on the heels of the catastrophically damaging referendum could seriously advantage the right faction. Infighting and chaos is a certainty.

The Liberals, of course, know this. They are doing their best to stir up moral panic in order to wedge Labor on guns, while also making Labor look weak, foolish, and generally unable to lead their way out of a soggy paper bag – while at the same time positioning the Liberals as the mature, sensible ones who had to drag Labor to take action.

The Liberals clearly cannot see any downside in pushing federal and state Labor to pump hundreds of millions – if not billions – of dollars more into unwieldy legislation and unworkable administrative systems. At a time when families are struggling to put food on their tables and pay their bills, this is unconscionable, but the Liberals know Labor will wear the blame for that too.

And both parties, lacking any moral credibility, are hoping that feigning concern for victims of violence and trumpeting their support for police and intent to ‘do something’ about public safety, will give their self-serving stratagies a veneer of legitimacy.

There are about a million licensed gun owners in Australia, from all walks of life – from farmers and tradies to doctors, lawyers and even journalists. 99.9% per cent of them are law-abiding people who are, I promise, just as horrified by criminals murdering people as you are.

For all the political scare campaigns, spin, and statistics, the simple reality is that if licensed gun owners were a genuine public safety problem, then you’d know about it in real life.

Too many of our laws are written by people who have no idea about firearms (or have all their “knowledge” from video games and movies) and don’t want to hear what firearms owners have to say, because it doesn’t agree with the legislator’s worldview.

The real question which never seems to be genuinely addressed by “tough on guns” advocates is how further restricting licensed shooters stops criminals from doing criminal things. Penalising target shooters will not stop criminal gang members shooting each other with illegal guns smuggled in from overseas or made in someone’s shed.

How is it for the past 27 years gun control advocates having been constantly telling us we have the world’s best gun laws, yet when Western Australia (who have spent that time essentially ignoring the National Firearms Agreement) now decides to implement draconian, badly thought out gun laws, suddenly it’s the other seven States and Territories – all of whom have National Firearms Agreement-based laws – who are somehow deficient?

Why isn’t Western Australia being called upon to simply adopt a localised version of New South Wales’ Firearms Act or Queensland’s Weapons Act?

Realistically, a separate Federal firearms register is going to cost a lot of money which is badly needed elsewhere, while not actually making Australians any safer. The various state vehicle licensing/registration systems manage to communicate seamlessly with each other, and have been able to for decades; we think it’s reasonable the firearms registries be able to do that too.

In Australia today, having a gun licence can mean many things. It can mean cultural traditions handed down over generations. It can mean supporting the ecological, health, and economic benefits of hunting. It can mean employment, agricultural productivity, and sustainability. It can mean striving for sporting excellence. It can mean researching, studying and preserving history. 

It also means the person holding it has gone through extensive police background checks and been found to be a fit and proper person to own firearms. Having a gun licence should be seen as the gold standard of proof someone is an upstanding, honest, trustworthy, law-abiding member of the community.

The fact politicians keep trying to make you think the opposite should be making you wonder: Why would someone feel threatened by upstanding, honest, trustworthy, law-abiding people?

  • Graham Park, President, Shooters Union Australia