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4 min read

Protecting Australia’s gun safety laws: Update from Australian Gun Safety Alliance

Profile of Dom O'Donnell
Written by Dom O'DonnellPosted on 8/8/2022

The gun control debate in the United States continues to amplify following the devastating Texas school shooting in May earlier this year. As the debate continues, so too do references to Australia as an example of impactful reform.

“Australia is no doubt renowned for firearm safety,” says Stephen Bendle, Convenor of the Australian Gun Safety Alliance. “Our country’s response to the 1996 Port Arthur tragedy is often the go-to example for a moment where gun reform was achieved.

“But threats to this ‘gold standard’ have slowly been building ever since.”

Before the Impact Fund supported the Alliance, there was no one talking to government about firearm safety

The Australian Gun Safety Alliance (AGSA) was formed in 2017 when the gun lobby in Australia was gaining influence in the debate over gun safety legislation. With support from the Impact Fund community, Australian Gun Safety Alliance is now a recognised voice for gun safety.

“Before the Impact Fund supported AGSA, there was no one talking to government about firearm safety – the only consultation was dominated by the firearms industry,” explains Stephen.

“We’re the only organisation that represents the views of the vast majority of Australians – up to 90 per cent – who either support our current gun laws or would prefer them to be tighter.”

In this Q&A, Stephen explains how AGSA is protecting gun safety, why this work is still needed in Australia, and what the Impact Fund’s support has meant for the Alliance.

Tell us about the Australian Gun Safety Alliance and the work you do.

The Australian Gun Safety Alliance is the only recognised gun safety advocate organisation in Australia. We work across every jurisdiction and we now have over 30 members that come from a wide range of sectors.

The firearm industry is very well organised and financed, and has great influence in the push to make more guns available, and more powerful guns available. AGSA is able to provide an alternative voice for the government and public, and be able to advocate on issues of firearm safety.

We find that the biggest challenge is to maintain our current laws as they are

In Australia, we pride ourselves on our strong gun laws, especially in comparison to places like the US. Why is this work needed here in Australia?

There are some firearm groups in Australia that very clearly and publicly talk about their affiliation with the United States National Rifle Association. Australia’s gun laws are certainly a topic of interest to the NRA, and are regularly commented upon because of their polar opposite view in America.

We find that the biggest challenge is to maintain our current laws as they are. I sit on one particular jurisdiction consultation committee which has two representatives from firearm safety groups and twelve firearm industry representatives. It’s very difficult to have a balanced conversation in that environment. One jurisdiction has a Firearm Advisory Committee that still only allows members of the firearm industry on it to advise the Minister.

It has taken us four years to be well recognised and to make constructive contributions to policy, legislation and regulations.

What outcomes are the Australian Gun Safety Alliance working on to protect our gun safety laws?

One of our prime objectives is to have every jurisdiction in Australia compliant with the National Firearms Agreement.

The Port Arthur tragedy occurred 26 years ago, where 35 people were tragically killed and countless others were impacted. In a grand bipartisan outcome, there was an agreement by every jurisdiction in Australia for a minimum set of regulations for the possession and use of firearms, known as the National Firearms Agreement.

The firearm industry is working every day to make firearms more accessible

Unfortunately, after 26 years not a single jurisdiction is fully compliant. Furthermore, the firearm industry is working every day to make firearms more accessible.

I am very pleased to be able to sit around a table with police ministers, police commissioners and regulators and argue that at the very heart of our work is the need to ensure public safety. We’ll continue that work into the future as long as we can.

How important is the ongoing support you receive from funders like the Impact Fund community?

The importance of the Impact Fund to get us up and going was critical. Ongoing support is equally as important – to be able to plan ahead, continue and focus our efforts on those jurisdictions where there are election processes in place because there is a very clear strategy by the firearms industry to influence representation in parliament.

On behalf of all of the Australian Gun Safety Alliance members, I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to the Impact Fund and enabled us to do this great work. It has enabled us to have a significant impact to keep Australians safer.

Feature image: Port Arthur, Tasmania was the location of the 1996 Port Arthur tragedy, after which Australian states and territories committed to the National Firearms Agreement.