The Federal Member for Fraser, Andrew Leigh. Photo: Graham Tidy
THIRTEEN years after John Howard's historic gun reforms, federal Labor MP and academic Andrew Leigh lauds his legacy and says he does not envision any policy retreat by the major parties.
Mr Leigh, as an academic at the Australian National University, published research in 2010 that found Mr Howard's gun buy-back of 500,000 semi-automatic rifles and shotguns had cut firearm suicides by 74 per cent, saving 200 lives a year. Firearm homicides were down 59 per cent.
The proportion of Australian homes with guns had dropped from 15 to 8 per cent after the buy-back. In the US, about 30 per cent of homes still had at least one gun.
''Our gun buy-back took about a fifth of our guns out of circulation but it approximately halved the number of gun-owning households,'' Mr Leigh said. ''If the US could dramatically decrease the number of households with guns, it would have many fewer deaths.''
''I think it's time to give a shout out to Howard and [then Nationals leader Tim] Fischer for standing up to their conservative base in 1996-97,'' Mr Leigh said. ''We need US Republicans who are willing to do the same.''
Media baron Rupert Murdoch would agree with that. On Twitter on Saturday he said: ''Terrible news today. When will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons? As in Oz after similar tragedy.''
Prominent Australian Liberal Malcolm Turnbull tweeted back with a none-too-subtle dig at Mr Murdoch's TV network: ''I suspect they will find the courage when Fox News enthusiastically campaigns for it.''
There was little sign of that. One-time presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, a regular on Fox News, told viewers: ''We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools.'' He added that ''laws don't change this kind of thing''.
But Samantha Lee, from Gun Control Australia, said: ''Most massacres are committed by people with no criminal record or no known history of mental illness. ''You can't predict who will lose the plot.''
Ms Lee worries the shooters' lobby is clawing back ground on the Howard reforms.
Bob Katter's Australian Party vows to fight for shooters' rights if it gains a toehold in the Senate next year.
Premier Ted Baillieu's government has promised shooters a stronger voice in Victoria.
In New South Wales, recreational hunting for feral animals will be allowed in national parks in the new year, once the safety regime is finalised, under concessions to the Shooters and Fishers Party.