Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE ( 18:48 ): With gun ownership steadily on the rise in Australia, and with more and more pro-gun members in our State and Federal parliaments, we decided that it was time to take a trip to the land of the free and the home of the gun. At the end of last year I visited the United States of America to discuss gun control policies, compare our gun lobbies and see firsthand what it might all mean under a Trump Administration. The trip took us across the country. Everywhere we went, people identified Australia’s National Firearms Agreement, or NFA, as the rolled gold model for gun control. As America deals with one shooting tragedy after another, they look to Australia as the country that seems to have figured it out. We have not had a single mass shooting since Port Arthur and the NFA. But in 2016 alone America had 58,156 incidents of gun violence, 15,051 gun deaths and 385 mass shootings. That is more than one mass shooting every day. These are depressing statistics, but on our trip we found that there is hope.
Advocates are not backing away from the cause and, even in the face of a Trump presidency, people across America are striving for evidence-based gun laws that reduce violence. On our first stop, in Texas, we met with Dan Hamermesh, who is not your typical campaigner for gun control but rather an economics professor who does not much like the prospect of teaching in a classroom where students are allowed to bring in their guns. He has given notice of his intention to resign as a result of the recent law that allows guns onto the University of Texas campus. Joan Neuberger is sticking around to continue her inspiring work with Gun Free UT. Bizarrely, it is now illegal to carry a sex toy on the University of Texas campus, but it is okay to carry a loaded Glock. Then there is Texas Gun Sense, with Andrea Brauer focusing on commonsense policies to reduce gun violence while working to hold back plans for what the gun lobby calls “constitutional carry”.
In Denver we saw public health professionals, trauma specialists, firearms safety trainers and gun shop owners working together to implement suicide prevention strategies. Colorado rates seventh nationally in suicide rates, and suicides in that state make up 78 per cent of all gun deaths. That is why Dr Emmy Betz, at the University of Colorado’s emergency department, and the Department of Public Health’s Office of Suicide Prevention are focused squarely on firearms. We also saw how brave gun violence prevention advocates are. After losing his son at Columbine, Tom Mauser has been working tirelessly to advocate for more sensible laws. I want to tell Tom here and now how much I appreciated his generosity in meeting with me, and his courage—his absolute courage— in speaking in that State about his son Daniel. Tom, together with Eileen McCarron from Colorado Ceasefire, saw all their hard work pay off when a suite of laws was passed in 2013 in the wake of the Aurora movie theatre shooting—one of the many massacres there.
But doing the right thing in reducing gun violence in the United States can come at a real political cost. We saw this with the principled decision by John Morse to support the laws in the Colorado Senate—and he was recalled as a result. We could all do with more politicians with the bravery of John Morse. In Baltimore, Boston, Washington and New York we saw where so much of the brainwork was being done. The path has largely been paved by Josh Horowitz from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Groups such as the Joyce Foundation, Americans for Responsible Solutions and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, as well as Everytown for Gun Safety, are leading the national debate on sensible reforms. We were privileged to attend their National Gun Violence Prevention Coalition annual general meeting.
Then there are Professor Stephen Teret and Shelly Greenberg, who are exploring how public health and policing intersect. They are doing that at John Hopkins University and researching smart gun technology as a way of potentially reducing firearms violence. Professor David Hemenway from Harvard University is of course the go-to brains trust on private guns, public health and sensible solutions for reducing gun violence. But as important as the brains are to the gun violence prevention movement, so is the heart. We need look no further than Po Murray and the Newtown community that is still coming to grips with the fact that, on 14 December 2012, 20 schoolchildren and six teachers were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Every year Po brings the Newtown community together with families and victims from across the country, from all walks of life, for the National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence. That vigil was incredibly moving and I was truly privileged to be there. I want to end on a note of hope. While the United States Congress is in deadlock, grassroots campaigners have delivered smarter and tougher gun laws in states from California to Pennsylvania. This includes innovative gun violence prevention orders that fill gaps that are present even in our gun control laws—we have a responsibility to fix this in Australia. With so much violence and so much pain in the United States, there was one consistent call we received wherever we went, “Australia, please stay strong on gun laws”.