EDITORIAL: Has our society changed?

Seven days with Andrew Eales
Seven days with Andrew Eales

AUSTRALIA'S record of mass shootings is remarkable in the years since Martin Bryant heaped so much anguish on visitors to Port Arthur.

There have been few mass shootings and a clear reduction in suicide deaths by firearms.

Then Prime Minister John Howard created a perfect storm for defection from his political heartland when he proposed the gun buyback scheme after the perilous events of 1996.

In the decade before the gun buyback, there was an average of one mass shooting every year in Australia. In the decade that followed, there were none.

In states where more guns were returned through the buyback policy, the death rate was more acutely reduced.

There's plenty - more than 33,000 firearms, of varying shapes and sizes, are registered in the wider Ballarat region and almost 700,000 across the state.

The type of weapons is also interesting, with 18,000 rifles, 10,000 shotguns and almost 900 handguns registered in the Ballarat region. The reaction to the story was fascinating.

There were plenty of pro-gun commentators who saw publishing the data as suggesting that there needs to be a further clampdown on firearm ownership.

However, there hasn't been a push for such action in Australia, except in commentary related to gun laws in the United States.

It does remain a sensitive topic.

Liberal Democratic David Leyonhjelm formally joined the Australian Senate earlier this week and has strong views on the gun landscape in Australia. He has been quoted widely recently, including this from the Australian Financial Review: "The full truth is that Australia's close neighbour New Zealand - a country very similar to Australia in history, culture, and economic trends - has experienced an almost identical time period with no mass shooting events despite the ongoing widespread availability of the types of firearms Australia banned.

"The gun laws have made no difference to the level of homicides, up or down. Their impact on suicides is less clear, but there has probably been no impact apart from method substitution.

"The bottom line is we are suffering under draconian gun laws that treat us like criminals in waiting, with zero public benefit but substantial public cost."

It would be interesting to delve into the extent of the "public cost" as described by the senator but mostly, what underpins his argument is more worthy of consideration.

It's that since Port Arthur, changes to our society might have impacted the number of deaths associated with firearms as much as the buyback.

When you consider the 700,000 registered guns, and who knows how many on the black market, maybe, just maybe, we've grown as a people.

IT'S a great victory for Ballarat that the Sovereigns, the renamed and revitalised premier netball team, will remain in Victoria's top flight competition.

Sporting groups, and the community more broadly, have combined in support of the Sovereigns and the efforts of those closely involved should be recognised after the team was effectively made to prove why it should remain in the state league competition.

Maintaining a team at this level provides a pathway for promising Ballarat netballers and those across the western region. And, it encourages young people to stay active.

It's cause for celebration but also reflection that now the hard work begins. For the Sovereigns to succeed, the lessons learned through the re-application process must be transferred to a structure and approach sustainable on, and off, the court.


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