Sydney siege: Gun law debate begins in Australia

A sniper sets up on Philip Street at Martin Place in Sydney, Australia in December Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Man Haron Monis died along with two of his hostages when armed police stormed the Lindt cafe on Tuesday

Debate about what sparked a deadly cafe siege in Sydney has now turned to Australia's guns laws.

Cross bench senator David Leyonhjelm has called for Australians to be allowed to carry concealed weapons.

But a weakening of the country's gun laws has been rejected by the main opposition parties and some members of the ruling Liberal-National coalition.

Two people died along with the hostage-taker when police stormed the Lindt cafe to end Monday's 16-hour siege.

Mr Leyonhjelm, a Liberal Democratic Party senator for New South Wales, said the siege would have been lessened if some of the 17 hostages had been armed.

"What happened in that cafe would have been most unlikely to have occurred in Florida, Texas, or Vermont, or Alaska in America, or perhaps even Switzerland as well," Senator Leyonhjelm told ABC Radio.

"Statistically speaking" in those jurisdictions, "one or two of the victims" would have had a concealed gun, he said.

Outlawed guns

But former coalition deputy prime minister Tim Fischer said that the analogy with US gun laws was "seductive nonsense".

"Debate will always go on in a good democracy but where it is built on a pack of lies from the NRA [US National Rifle Association] it should be dealt with swiftly," he said.

"It is seductive nonsense to say concealed gun laws would somehow work here in Australia."

Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten also rejected the idea.

"Our rate of gun deaths for the same population proportionately is far less [than America] and I do not see how putting more guns into the community makes us safer," he said.

In the wake of a mass shooting that left 35 people dead in Port Arthur in the state of Tasmania in 1996, the then prime minister, John Howard, dramatically tightened gun laws.

Image copyright AP
Image caption National gun restrictions were introduced after a mass shooting in Port Arthur in 1996

The first of three national agreements- the National Firearms Agreement (1996) - resulted in restricted legal possession of automatic and semi-automatic firearms and further restricted the legal importation of some non-military firearms.

Australia's states and territories agreed to a firearms registration scheme and licensing of people who wanted to legally possess and use firearms.

Previously, only handguns needed to be registered and obligations around long-arm gun registration varied between jurisdictions.

Police inquiries have revealed that the Sydney cafe gunman, 50-year-old Man Haron Monis, was not a registered firearms licence holder and had never held a gun licence in New South Wales, the state where the siege took place.

In NSW, anyone who wants to own and use a firearm must have a licence or a permit, and must have a genuine reason for obtaining the licence and meet a range of legislative requirements relating to that genuine reason.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Man Haron Monis, a self-styled Islamic cleric, had a gun even though he was on bail for numerous charges

A mandatory national buyback of outlawed guns eventually resulted in the destruction of more than one million weapons, according to University of Sydney academic Philip Alpers.

In a research paper he wrote in 2013, Mr Alpers said the post-1996 destruction of guns reduced Australia's national stock of firearms by one-third.

"If we accept a frequently cited estimate of 270 million privately owned guns in the United States, a similar effort in that country would require the destruction of 90 million firearms," said Mr Alpers.

However, the report also found that although the importing of guns into Australia was stagnant for about two years it then began to recover.

"By mid-2012, following a steady 10-year upward trend in gun buying, Australians had restocked the national arsenal of private guns to pre-Port Arthur levels."

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