Why it's time for a serious conversation about our guns laws.

Two decades on from the Port Arthur massacre, CEO of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, Lesley Podesta asks if we are willing to talk common sense on guns, to ensure our children can grow up in a safe society.

I visited Hobart to see my son recently. He has happily settled into university life, he is safe and thriving and it gave me a warm feeling to see him enjoying his independence.

On my trip, I also visited Port Arthur, the site of one of the deadliest shootings worldwide committed by a single person. This particular visit was in preparation for my new role as CEO with the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, an organisation born of that devastating mass-shooting and to commemorate Alannah and Madeline Mikac who lost their lives that day, along their mother and 32 other innocent people.

As I walked around the historic site, I recalled watching the news that awful day… I remember it clearly as so many Australians do. In my case I was holding my infant son, shocked and horrified and trying to make some sense of it all.

I reflected on how, 20 years on, my son has never known a mass shooting in his country in his lifetime and how incredibly fortunate he and his peers are to have grown up in a country with strict gun control measures.

Port Arthur today. Image: Getty.

These measures came about from the National Firearms Agreement 1996, which was enacted by former Prime Minster, the Hon John Howard, with support from Alannah and Madeline’s father Walter Mikac and hundreds of others, swiftly after the Port Arthur massacre.

The agreement asked that governments in all states and territories commit to a series of gun-control regulations, including firearms classifications, cooling-off periods and background checks before purchase.

It didn’t mean you couldn’t own a firearm, but it did mean you needed to prove legitimacy of use, making it harder for those without reason to purchase.

These gun control laws are now the envy of many countries, referred to regularly in speeches by world leaders. However like many Australians, I wasn’t aware that they’re currently under review and that pro-gun groups continually lobby Government to undo their 1996 reforms, until I started in my new role.

Watch: Walter Mikac, who lost his wife and two daughters in the Port Arthur massacre, talks about the watering down of Australian gun laws. Post continues after video.

Video via Channel 9

Nor are most Australians aware that already these laws have already been weakened.

What I mean by this is that in four states, a common sense 28-day cooling off period before someone can buy a second or subsequent firearm has been removed. It also means that right now in Western Australia there is no age limit for a young person to practise shooting a firearm at a gun club, they can start at aged seven if they wish too.

And scarily, it also means that the dangerous ‘rapid-fire’ firearms like the modified Adler A110 shotgun are being imported into Australia.

This is the reason the foundation recently launched a gun-control petition - Keep Australia safe from gun violence - to shine a light on the very real threat of allowing our gun laws to be weakened and to ask Australians what kind of gun culture they wish to live with in the future.

Globally more relaxed gun laws impact on the lives of millions of each year, as well as define the politics and values of a nation.

Walter Mikac. Image via Getty.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said of gun control and her support of our petition “These days, I travel regularly to the United States. There I have seen the consequences first-hand of an inability to implement even the most basic of gun control measures. The system we have in Australia is working and it is saving lives: we must continue to protect it.”

Her words really resonate with me and I agree, it’s time for action.

Unbelievably, in the US there are 91 firearm related deaths each day, and mass shootings are so common they longer make front page news.

Thankfully firearm related deaths in Australia are not what they are in the US however, sadly, violence in Australia is on the rise.

The foundation’s mission is to protect children from the effects of violence; we value a culture of safety where children and families can thrive in peace and are supported to best reach their fullest potential.

John Howard was influential in revolutionising Australia's gun laws.

Therefore we take seriously any actions available to us to reduce violence and its effects - and one of these ways is to have a respectful public conversation about firearm culture and our standards and expectations as an educated and informed society.

More than 20,000 people have signed the Foundation’s online petition to let all governments know we support a strengthening of the National Firearms Agreement 1996 that brought us safer gun laws.

These signatures includes high-profile women like journalists Caroline Jones, Melissa Doyle, and leading CEOs Ann Sherry from Carnival and Dr Helen Szoke from Oxfam Australia.

Many of our inspirational male leaders also have a strong vision for our future and have signed, including Premier of Western Australia Colin Barnett, the Cape York Health Council's Dr Mark Wentitong, human rights advocate Jeremy Jones and sporting icons Andrew Gaze, and John Bertrand, who is chairman of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.

I would love to see the vast, silent majority in Australia pledge their commitment to a safer future. A future in which guns are not a common sight in our society.

We can’t let our fear of criticism from a very vocal pro-gun minority stop us from speaking up to protect our laws. Nor should we be complacent and allow our laws to change and for a pro-gun culture to be accepted and normalised.

I urge you to sign our petition to let our governments know that you wish to preserve and maintain our sensible and admired gun laws. Let them know that you want to live in a society where leaders protect families and a future free from gun violence.

Please keep Australia safe from gun violence via amf.org.au

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