Look to the US to see Tim Fischer's legacy

The recent passing of former Nationals leader and deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer brought into sharp focus the courage of both him and then newly elected PM John Howard. Their tightening of the gun laws - in particular the banning of automatic weapons - after the Port Arthur massacre is something for which the whole country should be grateful.

While there has been gun violence in the 23 years since, we have not witnessed the scourge of mass shootings that debdevils the US.

Rarely does a week pass in the US without a mass shooting involving a disgruntled male with an assault rifle. It's so commonplace that last month's atrocity - remember Gilroy, El Paso, Dayton? - is quickly overtaken by the next. There's thoughts and prayers aplenty but no appetite for reforming gun laws that by any measure do not work.

On the TV news, in the wake of these mass shootings, the US resembles a war zone, the streets full of first responder vehicles, fire engines, ambulances, armoured SWAT trucks. Behind the flashing lights are the familiar signs of what should be a civilised society - Walmart, Safeway, JC Penney, the Vegas skyline.

This could have been our reality were it not for the steadfastness of Tim Fischer and John Howard, who saw after Port Arthur and the string of mass shootings which preceded it that urgent action was needed.

While they did not have an oft-misinterpreted constitutional amendment standing in their way, nor a rich and powerful pro gun lobby in the form of the National Rifle Association, they did have strident opposition among farmers and the first iteration of Pauline Hanson's One Nation party.

To get the gun buy-back scheme across the line, to ban automatic and heavily restrict semi-automatic rifles, to impose strict controls on the storage and registration of weapons and to protect our country from mass shootings was an extraordinary achievement.

Sensible Americans point to our gun laws as a model that ought to be adopted in the US. Tragically, they are howled down at every turn by the pro gun lobby. In a strange twist of logic, the constitutional right to bear arms somehow takes precedence over the right of school children not to fear being mowed down in class.

Tim Fischer's legacy is something we should all be proud of. The right to be safe always outweighs the right to own guns.