Our say | Welcome move to take guns off the street

WHEN John Howard ordered a national gun buyback in 1996, the anger across much of regional Australia was palpable.

Thousands of gun owners, many of them living on the land, saw the buyback as branding them as criminals.

To farmers trying to protect their crops from feral animals, a gun is just another tool of the trade and they did not appreciate being lumped in with some of the nation’s worst mass killers.

The debate put Nationals MPs in a particularly tough spot, throwing them into a pitched battle against their traditional core constituency.

Despite the widespread opposition, though, the Coalition pressed on with its plans and today’s Australian society is thankful for that.

And the guns buyback remains John Howard’s greatest lasting legacy to our country.

The years since the terrible Port Arthur massacre have seen Australia become the envy of much of the western world when it comes to gun crime.

The Howard buyback did not stop criminals getting their hands on weapons – as proven by gang violence in Melbourne and western Sydney in the years since – but it was effective in dramatically reducing the number of firearms in the community.

And the Australian experience has clearly shown that fewer guns does mean fewer gun deaths and it is as sad as it is remarkable that countries like the United States have not chosen to follow the same path.

In the decade before Port Arthur, Australia had seen the horror of gun public place massacres like Hoddle Street, Queen Street and Strathfield – names seared into our public consciousness.

In the two decades since Port Arthur, we have seen none.

Now the Australian Government has launched a new gun amnesty, picking up from the work of 20 years ago.

The amnesty will run through until September 30 and while we should not expect to see anything like the same number of firearms handed in, the same principles apply.

A no-questions-asked amnesty is giving people who have firearms they don't know what to do with a sensible means of disposing of them.

This is not about demonising responsible gun owners, this is about recognising that fewer guns means a safer society.

How could anyone not want that?