Public safety ‘concerns’ mask anti-gun agenda

Rachael Oxborrow

The latest agenda for Australia’s anti-gun contingent draws a public safety curtain in front of the same biased attitude against law-abiding firearm owners – a wolf in sheep’s clothing if you will. While not as obvious or uncompromising as we’ve seen via Gun Control Australia’s campaigning over the years, the core of well-meaning messages of a newly-published Medical Journal of Australia article and the Australian Gun Safety Alliance (AGSA) remains the same.

A Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) webinar Gun Violence in Australia: A review held late last year featured University of Sydney Professor Joel Negin from the School of Public Health and Stephen Bendle from both the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and AGSA. Professor Negin provided a summary of his work – co-authored by Philip Alpers who runs global website out of Sydney University – highlighting a concerning suicide risk for males by use of firearms in rural areas. As pointed out by John Maxwell in his article ‘NSW gun crime drops as ownership rises’, while important to address, the study is lacking recommendations beyond suggesting further research.

The intentions of the webinar became more apparent through host and PHAA chief executive officer Adjunct Professor Terry Slevin’s comments mirroring recent anti-gun commentary suggesting the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) has funded the ‘gun lobby’. “As a result of that [the NFA] membership of gun clubs and organisations around Australia has gone up enormously and that has created larger, better funded organisations and that has translated into, in some cases, them being involved in political action,” he said.

“There’s now far more organised resources and capacity for those prosecuting more relaxed firearms laws in Australian than there was prior to 1996 and that should be a source of concern. It’s absolutely a David and Goliath policy argument in this country . . . the bottom line here is it’s worth understanding there’s an absolutely disproportionate investment in resources for those wanting relaxed firearm laws in Australia. That will only come into focus when next we have a significant effect of major injury or death by firearm. Only then will that fact get the right attention it deserves in the policy environment.”

The sentiment continued but in a more nuanced manner as Steven Bendall addressed the webinar in his role with AGSA to monitor firearm policy, legislation and regulations across the country. He joined the chorus and the ‘gun lobby’ was again criticised for having funding and clout. He outlined that in an effort to level the playing field the AGSA was formed to “bring together a group of likeminded organisations to hold governments to account for commitments they’ve already made to a national set of minimum requirements under the firearms agreement”.

AGSA supporters consist of the Australian College of Nursing, Australian Health Promotion Association, White Ribbon Australia, Australasian Injury Prevention Network, Australian Childcare Alliance, Australian Childhood Foundation, Australasian College for Emergency Medicine,, Centre for Armed Violence Reduction, Cubit Family Foundation Australia, Australian Communities Foundation, Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, Australian Education Union, Royal Australasian College of Physicians, No to Violence, Unicef Australia, Uniting Community Services, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Gun Control Australia, Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, Injury Matters, Public Health Australia, Australian Medical Association and the Alannah and Madeline Foundation.

While Bendall’s presentation was quite balanced in terms of recognising firearm owners in Australia are law-abiding, the bias against civilian firearm ownership can be seen in the AGSA membership including Gun Control Australia and

SSAA National, like AGSA and its supporting members, place great importance on public safety. There will always be support from the Association on measures which genuinely contribute to that end, it’s when regulation efforts target law-abiding legal firearm owners engaging in recreational hunting or target shooting within the laws of our country that concern arises. The track record of anti-gun lobbyists, which includes several AGSA-supporting groups, is sensationalised with fear and hate to sell their long-held ideological hatred of firearms.

True efforts to increase public safety such as reducing illegal firearm numbers, deterring criminal activity and improving health services to prevent and reduce ongoing impacts of firearm-related injuries is an area of common ground that could be shared.

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