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Political Backlash Over Plans To Tighten Gun Control

February 5, 1988

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ The governments of Australia’s two most populous states have proposed tougher gun control laws in the wake of recent mass killings, and shooting enthusiasts are up in arms.

The New South Wales and Victorian state governments have announced legislation that would restrict guns to people who need themfor their work or to control vermin and to members of accredited gun clubs.

With elections expected this year in both states, the pro-gun lobby is hard at work organizing opposition to the measures.

Last weekend, an estimated 35,000 protestors demonstrated in Melbourne, and more than 500 members of shooting clubs met in Sydney to plan strategy. About 3,000 attended a protest meeting in Adelaide.

There are an estimated 900,000 guns in Australia, which has a population of 16 million. About 9 million people live in New South Wales and Victoria.

New South Wales Premier Barrie Unsworth has promised to bring in ″the toughest gun laws in the world.″ He has called for registering every rifle in the state - a plan that would mean hiring 200 police officers.

With a state election expected in the next three months, Unsworth’s Labor government is under pressure. A group called the Joint Task Force on Guns has been formed to mount a political campaign to support the opposition Liberal Party, said Kevin Loy, co-ordinator for the group.

He said the group would fight the introduction of the new measures through the courts.

Groups in favor of gun control also have been formed.

The Women Against Guns coalition was officially launched in Sydney on Thursday.

Lee O’Gorman, the group’s secretary, told a news conference the coalition plans to hold an anti-gun rally in downtown Sydney next week.

John Cain, Labor premier of Victoria state, said his party was not worried about losing seats in the state parliament over the issue. The Victoria legislation is due to be introduced in early March, and an election is scheduled in Victoria later this year.

″We’ve got to do the right thing and provide the maximum protection possible to ordinary people going about their business,″ Cain said.

The move toward stricter control was sparked by mass shootings last year.

In August, a 19-year-old former army cadet killed seven people and wounded 12 others during a rampage in Melbourne. In December, a 22-year-old ex-law student went beserk in a Melbourne office building, killing eight people and injuring five others before leaping to his death from an 11th-floor window.

The governments of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia decided to frame their own gun legislation after a meeting called late last year by Prime Minister Bob Hawke failed to reach agreement on uniform measures throughout the nation’s states and territories. Queensland and Tasmania opposed stricter laws.

Don Hopgood, deputy premier of South Australia, said the protest meeting in Adelaide would not affect his government’s plans to tighten gun laws.

Ted Drane, president of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, said the government had shown total disregard for people living in rural areas.

Many Australians use guns to control vermin such as wild dogs, pigs, rabbits and cats.

Jack Hallam, agriculture minister of New South Wales, said there was a lot of confusion about the laws.

He said a large proportion of rural gun owners would fit into the four categories under which people would still be allowed to possess firearms: professional shooters; occupational shooters, such as police officers; gun collectors; and those needing guns for vermin control.

″I believe once rural residents realize they are still entitled to possess guns under the government’s laws, the anti-gun law sentiment will subside,″ Hallam said.

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