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Cabinet papers: Shopping mall massacre triggers tighter gun laws

Police guard bodies at the site of the Milperra Massacre where six people died on September 2, 1984. Photo: Bruce Miller A victim’s car at the scene of the Hoddle Street massacre in Clifton Hill, Melbourne on August 9, 1987.

Two months after Wade Frankum killed seven women in a shooting and knife rampage in Strathfield, Sydney, the cabinet agreed in October 1991 to what were then sold as stringent new national gun controls.

They included bans on the private sale of self-loading military-style weapons made at the Small Arms Factory in Lithgow and the repeal of the Australian Rifle Club regulations in place since 1903.

The proposals also followed a spate of multiple shootings including the 1984 Milperra massacre and the 1987 massacres in Hoddle Street and Queen Street, in Melbourne.

Justice Minister  Michael Tate told the cabinet that the Commonwealth had to take a firm lead in proposing a national uniform strategy to control the availability of firearms.

“The principle underlying the Commonwealth paper is that the possession of firearms is not a right but a conditional privilege, and that the contribution of firearms to the risk of violent death demands a substantially more rigorous approach than has prevailed hitherto,” Senator Tate said.

“Shooters’ organisations may criticise tightened controls. Other groups may criticise controls as insufficient. In both cases the point is to be made that controls are principally matters for the states/territories to determine.”

Later that month a special meeting of the Australian Police Ministers’ Council pushed through new national uniform gun laws.

But firearm laws in Tasmania and Queensland remained relatively relaxed for some guns.

That changed when Martin Bryant killed 35 people and injured 23 others at Port Arthur five years later and then prime minister John Howard introduced far tougher national laws that some Americans see as admirable as they suffer regular mass shootings.

Cabinet records release

Cabinet records for 1990 and 1991 held by the National Archives of Australia became eligible for access from January 1, 2016. Information about the cabinet records, lists of the documents and copies of key cabinet documents, including selected submissions and decisions, are available on the Archives’ website (naa.gov备案老域名). Click on the “Collection” tab, then “Popular research topics”, then “Cabinet”.

Requests for access to records not already released may be made via RecordSearch on the Archives’ website.

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