An Al-Jazeera investigation has shone a light on a length that some political parties will go to gain influence during an election period. Australia’s One Nation Party led by Senator Pauline Hanson were exposed attempting to obtain funding from the United States National Rifle Association (NRA) in return for overturning restrictive gun laws. Al-Jazeera’s report aired Tuesday and has received as a lot of publicity since then highlighting a broader issue of the role and tactics of interest groups in politics. The reports show how through targeted promotions and manipulating the media, pro-gun views can become mainstream forums. One Nation members also met with representatives from Koch Industries in an attempt to state their case and gain support for their ideas, raising the issue of foreign meddling in a country’s domestic politics.
With an undercover reporter posing as the head of a fictional Australian gun lobby, Al Jazeera secretly filmed James Ashby and Steve Dickson from One Nation meeting NRA officials in Washington in 2018. This news is particularly concerning given the recognition already paid to the dangers present in foreign meddling in politics by the Australian government. The Australian government introduced a law prohibiting foreign political donations in November of last year, just 10 weeks after Dickson and Ashby’s meeting in the U.S. “Reports that senior One Nation officials courted foreign political donations from the U.S. gun lobby to influence our elections and undermine our gun laws that keep us safe are deeply concerning,” tweeted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. One Nation represents populist right-wing ideology and is arguably comparable to other right-wing parties which have come to prominence in western democracies in recent years. One Nation in response to the video has denied that the purpose of the meetings was to gain funding with the chief of staff James Ashby saying, “These conversations with the NRA were to look at nothing more than campaigning techniques.” The release of the Al-Jazeera documentary is particularly timely in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack last week and stokes further the smouldering debate surrounding gun laws.
The comments from Ashby and Dickson that were recorded during the video echo much of the general sentiment expressed in the manifesto prepared by the Christchurch terrorist. Dickson is filmed telling pro-gun advocates that Australia has been importing “dangerous” Muslims who break into people’s homes and steal everything they own. The rhetoric that ‘our country is under attack’ comes through loud and clear both through both One Nation recordings and the Christchurch manifesto. This is incredibly concerning particularly when a political party tries to learn from the NRA’s playbook around peddling gun rights support in the U.S. The NRA present gun ownership as a right, not only under the second amendment but as part of the god given right to self-defence. When gun ownership is presented as a human right in this way, it galvanizes the support in a way that makes it much more difficult to change laws around it. But this is where the general public shouldn’t allow themselves to be caught. People shouldn’t consider gun ownership a right any more than owning a nuclear weapon. The real focus needs to be on public safety, and New Zealand has apparently recognized this with the swift action taken to ban Military Style Semi-Automatic firearms following the Christchurch attack. The safety argument is one that comes up in the U.S. and through NRA rhetoric around why gun ownership should be promoted, but the argument simply doesn’t hold water. There will always be those who hold extreme views in society and act violently on their beliefs and impulsions. Noting that violence will continue to be present to some degree, gun control is a means of harm minimization. The availability of semi-automatic weapons like AR-15’s amplifies the damage that acts of violence can have, and it only makes sense that every and all steps be taken to reduce the possible harm to human life. From a public safety perspective, there is simply no justification for a member of the public to own these kinds of weapons.
Australia has some of the world’s tightest gun laws, implemented following the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 which claimed the lives of 35 people. Following the incident, Australia moved quickly to implement a firearm buy-back scheme in which more than 650,000 weapons were handed back to the government for destruction. Before 1996, Australia had a rate of mass shootings consistent with the U.S. but since the 1996 restrictions, has not experienced any. The restrictions introduced in New Zealand are primarily based on the existing Australian model, and a buy-back scheme will soon be implemented to encourage the destruction of semi-automatic firearms.