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The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Tim Fischer

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Tim Fischer

Headlines:
Former Australian deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer says countries like Australia and New Zealand should introduce tariffs on guns and ammunition imported from the United States, because of that country’s failure to control mass shootings and gun crime. He says such moves could go further if the US does not take action in the near future, saying “There are things small nations can do that can bring further pressure to bear.”
Fischer says New Zealanders should be wary about where they visit in the United States, given the risk of gun crime. “To put it in brutal terms. you are 15 times more likely to be shot dead in the USA than here in Australia.”


And he says New Zealanders - as well as Australians - should not assume a mass shooting similar to the one in Las Vegas could happen in their country.


Gun law reform is back on the minds of many Americans after dozens were killed in the Las Vegas shooting.
Despite the fact that 12,000 Americans are killed by guns every year, any move to tighten the rules is held back by a hugely influential gun lobby.
But other countries have had success - including Australia after the Port Arthur massacre.
I spoke to Tim Fischer, who was deputy Prime Minister at the time, about the ways Australia and New Zealand could have an effect on US gun policy through trade and tourism.
Tim Fischer: Look, Lisa, under the current trade deals, there's zero — zero — tariffs on legal ammunition being exported from the USA to Australia and, for that matter, New Zealand, and, of course, zero tariffs on the thousands of guns being legally exported from the USA to New Zealand. What I'm really about is 'enough is enough'. If I can say one word to the National Rifle Association, it's a great Italian word — basta; enough. The US congress has now got to stand up to the NRA — the US administration, the White House — because this latest tragedy in Vegas has to be called for what it is — an avoidable atrocity.
Lisa Owen: I want to talk a little bit more about the NRA in a minute. But in terms of this idea of a massacre tax and also travel advisories to put people off going to America — those suggestions — what is your end aim with those suggestions?
It's to jolt the USA, jolt Americans and jolt any American I now meet and make them squirm on the matter that they may not own guns; they may fully support Michael Bloomberg and others in the US and their sensible approach to gun-safety measures, but they've got to do more than that; they've actually got to organise against any congressman that allows this dysfunctionality to continue.
How far are you prepared to go with that? Are you prepared to call for tourists not to visit America, to boycott America because they're unhappy with or you're unhappy with gun laws? I mean, how far should we push it?
Lisa, I think Australians, Kiwis should still proceed to the USA if they have to but think carefully about it — more particularly, plan carefully where they go in the USA. New York is actually slightly safer nowadays, thanks to some of the great work of then-mayor Michael Bloomberg. But Midwestern states, per capita, far worse. And to put it in brutal terms, you are 15 times more likely to be shot dead in the USA than here in Australia per million people.
Mm. So you're trying to exert pressure, but I'm wondering — is it okay to meddle in domestic politics of another country?
Yes, it is when it's Australian and New Zealand citizens in danger. Chris Lane was shot dead on a peaceful afternoon in a small country town in the USA, doing nothing else but jogging along, by some bored teenagers. I say again — it's time. It's time for action. It's not good enough for White House spokesmen to say, 'Now is not the time.' Now is the time, sadly.
Do you think you're alone? Are you considered to be a bit of a zealot, or do you think there's a political will to pick up on what you are saying and suggesting? In New Zealand and in your own country.
I was taken by an anchor of one of the TV programmes of the US a couple of days ago who called out their congressmen and said, 'Enough of your prayers and thoughts; we need action.' And you're going to see a lot more of that this time around. Orlando last year — 49 — I thought would've caused movement in the stations, so to speak. Vegas — 10/1 — over 500 casualties, some 59 confirmed dead at this stage. I do allow that the US citizens in the broad have common sense, and I do allow this time they have the chance to get it right, including President Trump, who does say, most recently, gun laws are a matter to be discussed a little down the track.
But the thing is — you mentioned Orlando there, and there was Sandy Hook as well, where a number of young children were killed in a gun attack. If there is not the will to make change after incidents like that, which there wasn't — President Obama tried; he couldn't get anything through — what makes you think it will change now?
Because the patience of the free world, the Western world, the mobile world is running out, and there's a sort of sovereign set of laws for each state, and there's a second amendment for the US. But there's also practical steps. I mean, they even allowed the size of magazines — a limitation on the size of magazines — provisions to lapse just a few years ago. How absurd was that? The very least, they should be considering taking some minimal steps — firstly, bring back the limitation on the size of gun magazines; secondly, establish gun background checks, especially for those on the No Fly List. Even that was blocked by the US senate in the aftermath of Orlando. And there's a number of other small, incremental steps which would show a bit of faith and show a bit of effort is being made. Do none of that, stand absolutely stuck in the mud and the blood, then look out, USA — life won't be all that simple. And there are things small nations can do to bring some further pressure to bear.
And what are you thinking in terms of bringing that pressure to bear? Other than what you've mentioned, do you have some other thoughts?
Let's give them a chance. Yes, I do, but let's give them the chance in this immediate aftermath. But what they above all else need to do is have rational people, like Gabrielle Giffords, the US congresswoman cut down by bullets in 2011, give her a chance to go out into that public square with hundreds of others. Because the polls actually show the NRA does not have a majority lock on these matters, even though through their dollars — and where do they come from? — they do have a lock on the congress as we speak. But times are changing. This time around, I think there is a real momentum following the tragedy that unfolded on a peaceful Sunday night at a country music concert along the Strip in Las Vegas.
You mentioned the NRA. So what responsibility do you think that that organisation needs to take for recent events?
Their continual steps to veto and lock sensible measures before the US congress needs to be called out for what it is — creating additional mass shootings in the USA. And this business that you need more guns, not less guns, well, John Howard, I proved there is another way. And 21 years later— I can't rule out that there may not be a mass shooting in the future, but since 1996, since Port Arthur, since the gun laws were changed here in Australia — and I see some pushback in New Zealand but some progress being made there — we have not had one mass shooting in Australia. And I'm very grateful for that.
So do you think that the NRA has blood on its hands?
That's your terminology, but the NRA is responsible for blocking a series of practical measures, which, because of that, has led to a number of factors which are contributing to the level of mass shootings. There are over 300 million guns in the USA. There are automatics and semi-automatics around every corner in the USA. We took the arguments to the public square, we mounted a buy-back and we effectively drained not all but most of the automatics and semi-automatics, and, by the way, if I was a farmer in Napier or Rolleston in New Zealand or in the Riverina in Australia, where I am, I'm not anti-gun; there's a proper role for guns and I've owned guns. As an ex-Vietnam veteran, I don't particularly pursue sporting shooting, but I accept and support the need for Olympic shooters, recreational shooters to have a fair access to the right-sized guns; totally opposed to machine guns in the malls of the USA, Australia or New Zealand.
So how did you manage to get the momentum to make those changes in Australia? Because there is pushback. How do you get people to come along with you? What enabled you to do that?
It was stepping up to the public square and very directly having huge public meetings in places like Wodonga and Gympie in Queensland, where I was hung in effigy one Sunday afternoon. But we stood our ground, and on that occasion, a younger, 12-year-old school prefect stood up and completely changed the atmosphere of the meeting in support of the gun proposals, which every state government signed off on in Australia, including the New South Wales government in Sydney, where I speak. And from time to time, yes, there's been amnesties and there's been further adjustments, but broadly, Australia went one way; the USA, with a false reading of its second amendment, continues to go the other way. Well, there are consequences for that, not the least of which are the families ripped apart by over 500 casualties in Las Vegas, 10/1, Sunday night.
The thing is — with gun change, what do you think it would take to change the NRA's mind? You say they haven't spoken yet, but they obviously have strong views that we're fully aware of. How do you turn around their view of this?
It will come when a more sensible level of leadership in the NRA realises that if they don't give some ground, if they don't allow full gun background checks for people on the No Fly List as a very minimum and a restoration of gun magazine limitations, then they may end up losing the lot, so great will be the boilover if there's another Orlando, another Vegas between now and Easter next year.
Well, the New Zealand government, they recently rejected recommendations to register weapons, and we won't have a gun buy-back. Do you think those are mistakes?
It's a matter for New Zealand. Your record is different. Your level of gun ownership is a great deal less per capita, and New Zealand and Canada will handle their situation, as will Italy. All of you are way ahead in terms of being much lower in the gun deaths per thousand people — per million people — when compared with the USA. So I refer you to good, wise people, like Lockwood Smith and others, to pontificate. As an ex-MP, ex-Minister for Trade, as I am, I must admit, as Lockwood and I went in to bat for free trade across the Pacific, I should've done more work on the small print. I wasn't really fully realising I was letting in with zero tariff ammunition from the gun manufacturers in the USA, who then turn round and give massive donations to the NRA, who then make donations to campaigns here in Australia against gun-law reform.
Hmm. Do you think that we're naive if we sit back and think that something like this couldn't happen in New Zealand?
And we are naive in Australia. Of course it can happen. There can be a mass shooting — a major-scale mass shooting — in Australia, in New Zealand, in Canada, but at least if Parliament's making an attempt to reduce the chances of that, then that's a fair cop, and 21 years is a pretty good record to date here in Australia, but no backing off from the necessary efforts. And to the United States and to President Trump, I wish you well, sir, as you pick up in your first few months as President of the USA, as the occupant of the White House, but it's about exactly at the same stage — John Howard had only been a very short time prime minister of this country when Port Arthur unfolded and we took the steps. Well, here's the opportunity for President Trump to start to take some minimal steps at least. That would be a good thing.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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