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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 13 Hansard (5 December) . . Page.. 4451 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

if you like, of political belief, of community belief, in this country today is that these changes should be made and should stand as a permanent reaction to the problems of which Port Arthur has been only the most extreme example. I thank members for their contributions, from Mr Kaine's erudite rendition of the role of the Sumerians, through to Mr Osborne's reflections on the people the legislation will hurt. I think all members genuinely believe that this kind of change is appropriate.

I want to make two brief comments in addition to that. I emphasise again that there are two things this legislation does not do. One is that it does not purport to brand gun owners as being inherently irresponsible people. The point has been made frequently to me, and I have no doubt to others, that banning these weapons and restricting access to weapons that are not banned is a reaction that inherently brands people who own those weapons or have owned those weapons as being irresponsible and likely to abuse and misuse them. The argument, I think, is a false argument. The reason Australian governments are moving to take this step is not that we believe that any more than a very small minority of gun owners are likely to abuse the privilege that ownership of their gun confers; rather, it is an acknowledgment of the fact that gun ownership is a right or a privilege - I think "a privilege" is now the correct description - which carries with it dangers for others in the community.

Nobody can be certain when they own a gun that the gun will never be misused, by other people outside their own family, by other members of their own family, or even by themselves. The facts are that many offences committed in our community have been committed by people who have long histories of responsible ownership but who have on occasions faced moments of crisis and been placed under pressures, often relating to domestic breakdown, which have led to changes in their attitude and, on occasions, to abuse of those guns. To remove dangerous weapons of certain kinds from the community is not to say that everybody is likely to misuse their guns, but to say that, on those occasions where they do come under the temptation to misuse guns, the guns may not be there. It is the same argument as asserting that people should be required to wear seat belts. Seat belts do not brand every driver an irresponsible driver, but they are an appropriate protection against those who sometimes are.

The second point I want to make is that I do not believe that this legislation should be seen as the harbinger of prohibition. Mr Moore has made some very valid points as to why prohibition is a generally unsatisfactory policy, particularly in respect of an item or items which have been in circulation and use in our community for a very long period of time. It is worth making the point that guns do have a useful purpose, indeed are an essential feature of our community, and it would be, I suggest, many years, centuries, in fact, before this community could look at a situation where it did not have the need to have guns or weapons in its possession. I think gun owners have expressed the view, the fear, that this legislation is just the beginning of the slippery slide and that it is only a matter of time before all the other categories of weapons are eaten up. That may be the wish of some people. It is not the Government's wish, and the arguments against doing that are quite overpowering.

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