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When playgrounds become battlegrounds: What Australia’s gun laws have taught the world

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 6 mins read
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Natural disasters like floods, bushfires, and tsunamis are devastating to life and property, but they don’t compare to the trauma of a blind massacre by a person with a gun, determined to kill.

While natural disasters show the destructible power of nature, mass shootings show the level of destruction that bad gun laws and an unstable mind can cause in a split second.

Mass shootings have become a pandemic in the US. Since 1999, there have been 377 school shootings, with around 46 incidents in different schools in 1999 alone. This year, that figure stands at 16 school shootings, with the last one (at the time of this article being written) on May 24th at an elementary school in Texas.

The gunman was an 18-year-old boy who was also a former student. The assault weapon was an AR-15-style rifle that he had bought after he turned 18.

How US schools went from playgrounds to battlegrounds

When we were young, the drills we practiced in school were earthquake and fire drills. It was fun since it would mean skipping lessons, lining up, and exiting the building. The chances of a fire or an earthquake were slim, so we knew this was just a drill.

But there is fear in the eyes of kids as they participate in the school shooting drills today. They don’t giggle and laugh as they hide under their desks or make for the bathrooms. Some drills even advocate for the sound of real gunfire and the use of toy firearms, hoping this training would be enough to save their lives one day.

While the efforts may be well-intentioned, they truly make you wonder: Is this what it has come down to? Is this the best we can do? Do we send our children to schools in a country that is safe, or have these playgrounds become battlegrounds in countries that suffer civil unrest?

Should parents in the US continue to panic whenever they hear police sirens and wonder if their worst fears have come true?

While the US still struggles with the pandemic of mass shootings and looks for answers, Australia may have already found them.

The Port Arthur tragedy and how Australia said, ‘Never again’

In April 1996, in the Tasmanian town of Port Arthur, a gunman with a rifle opened fire in a café. His rage caused 35 people to lose their lives, and left 23 people wounded, heartbroken, and traumatised.

The incident, which became known as the Port Arthur Tragedy, shook the nation. Fortunately for them, the newly elected Prime Minister at the time, John Howard, was determined to ensure that an incident like this would never repeat itself.  What followed were strict gun laws and regulations. It was difficult, but the Australian government instituted tough laws and confiscated over 700,000 weapons.

Even today, Australia’s gun regulations are the toughest in the world, and the statistics speak for themselves.

Here’s what the world can learn from Australia’s gun laws

The production, sale, possession, and use of guns are all regulated by various gun laws across the globe. These laws vary from nation to nation, and sometimes even within a nation, from one state to the next.

Some people argue for more relaxed gun restrictions, while others call for stronger steps to reduce gun violence. No matter your stance on gun control, there is no denying its influence on crime rates and public safety.

Let’s take a look at some of Australia’s gun laws:

The NFA (National Firearms Agreement) standardised firearms legislation across the country, and semiautomatic and fully automatic firearms became outlawed by the NFA.

Gun ownership had to be justified by a license, registration, and lawful use (such as target shooting, hunting, or law enforcement).

In Australia, it is unlawful to possess a firearm for protection or self-defence. Openly possessing a gun anywhere in Australia is prohibited due to Australia’s stringent gun laws.

To possess and use firearms lawfully, individuals must possess a firearms licence and satisfy other requirements.

Under the NFA, which was enacted in 1996 in response to the Port Arthur tragedy, the primary reasons for possessing a firearm in Australia are limited to sport shooting, hunting, and occupational use. Self-defence with a firearm and personal protection with a pistol is prohibited in Australia.

In fact, law enforcement officers, security guards, and individuals with specialised occupational requirements (such as farmers who must safeguard their animals from predators) are among the few exceptions to this rule.

Individuals must adhere to the standards established by the appropriate authorities to obtain the necessary licences, despite the aforementioned conditions.

Gun laws and regulations differ only a little among Australia’s various states and territories. As a result, if a person wants to buy or carry a gun in Australia, they need to first investigate and understand the individual rules and restrictions that apply to their location.

Understanding the difference between a PTA and a weapons licence

Many countries, including Australia, offer two types of permits for weapon ownership: a PTA (Permit to Acquire), and a Weapons Licence, which are two different types of permits.

A PTA permits an individual to acquire a specific firearm or category of firearms, such as a handgun or a rifle and is usually a one-time permit valid for a limited period. After the period expires, the individual needs to apply for a new PTA if they wish to acquire another firearm. A PTA is typically required for each new firearm purchase.

On the other hand, a weapons licence is a broader permit that allows an individual to possess and use firearms for various purposes, such as hunting, sport shooting, or personal protection. A weapons licence is usually valid for a longer period, such as five years, and may cover multiple firearms within a specific category, such as handguns or shotguns.

Take away the trigger

Instead of encouraging more people to buy guns to protect their homes and property, Australia’s tough gun laws made it difficult for people to acquire weapons. In fact, over 700,000 firearms were collected and destroyed as part of the NFA’s nationwide buyback program. The result? Only one incident took place in the 26 years after the Port Arthur Tragedy.

This makes you wonder if the answer lies not in shooting drills, but in gun legislation with comprehensive weapons bans, licencing, and buyback programmes to truly protect what is most valuable.

After all, playgrounds should be all about scraped knees and dusty hands, never about tiny bodies and empty bullet shells.

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