SMH - MORRISON HAS OPENED THE GATE TO THE EXTREMIST US GUN LOBBY

31 August 2019

MORRISON HAS OPENED THE GATE TO THE EXTREMIST US GUN LOBBY
 
On Sunday a wave of sadness consumed me as I saw Dayton, Ohio - where I attended university and lived for seven years - become the latest site of a mass shooting in the United States.
 
Blocks from my old neighbourhood, nine people had been killed and 27 injured in less than 30 seconds.
 
Hours earlier, 20 people had been killed in El Paso, Texas, with the shooter reportedly inspired by the Christchurch attacks, according to a white nationalist, anti-immigrant manifesto posted online.
 
When speaking of similar attacks, JM Berger from the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism wrote: "The heady marriage of words to action makes old hatreds new again ... these blood-infused manifestos are seeds that sprout twisted roots from which new mutations eventually grow. Scattered by the winds of our ever-more networked communities, some will land on fertile ground."
 
In El Paso, what began as ugly rhetoric online sprouted twisted roots and turned into an even uglier, violent reality.
 
It's in these tragic moments we should be thankful for the reforms made by John Howard after the Port Arthur massacre. If there is one thing Australians agree on, it is our robust, comprehensive and hopefully uncompromising gun control laws.
 
These laws have prevented mass shootings and terrorism attacks alike, with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton saying on Monday: "We have been able to thwart [terrorist attacks] in part because of the gun law reform that we've had in our country."
 
Security agencies have confirmed at least one of these thwarted attacks related to a right-wing extremist.
 
At the same time, the Conservative Political Action Conference - or CPAC is descending on Sydney this weekend with a slew of pro-gun Americans taking to the stage.
 
Both CPAC hosts Matt Schlapp and Dan Schneider are lifetime members of the National Rifle Association. Fellow lifetime NRA member and CPAC speaker, Congressman Matt Gaetz, believes gun rights are "granted not by government but by god" and led efforts to allow people in Florida to carry their guns in public.
 
Then there is Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who has advocated for wide scale gun ownership, saying in 2015: "Get a gun. Buy one legally.
 
Learn how to shoot it and be primed to use it."
 
To think they will shy away from their gun-toting, "god-given" rights is a fallacy; particularly when the new NRA president called Australia's gun laws "a huge over-reaction".
 
It's of serious concern that Scott Morrison is allowing his members of Parliament to appear alongside these speakers - and Raheem Kassam, who has vilified Muslims. Having such speakers invited here by the Liberal Party and welcomed without question by Liberal senators, MPs and candidates, makes Australia fertile ground for the alt-right.
 
Australia has been relatively isolated from the recent rise in white supremacist violence, though we cannot ignore that one of our own was inspired by it and took his murderous intent to New Zealand.
 
ASIO says it is tracking 100 far-right groups. Its head, Duncan Lewis, says extremist groups become of interest only when their motivation "crosses the line and moves into violence".
 
This means there are up to 100 right-wing groups in Australia with the potential to commit violence - and possibly more on internet forums.
 
Indeed, while the Morrison government quickly passed laws to prevent the streaming of future attacks like that in Christchurch, some have said these laws, while well intentioned, are too little too late.
 
The laws did not silence alt-right voices on 8chan - a website widely seen as a megaphone for mass shooters and a platform for violent white nationalists to brag about their desires to beat the "high scores" of mass murderers.
 
It's in this disturbing environment that we have Morrison effectively encouraging further radicalisation by welcoming hate to our shores in the form of CPAC. You don't prevent violence by providing a platform to those who believe gun ownership is a god-given right.
 
It begs the question: whose side is Morrison on? Australians or CPAC and its pro-gun, alt-right, hate speech agenda?
 
We, together, need to confront the spread of the alt-right and white nationalism in Australia. As is the case with our gun laws, this should not have to be a matter of sides.
 
Like other forms of extremism, we cannot bury our heads in the sand when it comes to right-wing extremism becoming normalised within our community.
 
And we definitely cannot allow a "heady marriage of words to action" to make old hatreds new again in Australia.
 
This opinion piece was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday, 7 August 2019.

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