Howard and Fischer open letter gets Shooters fired up

Published: 12 October 2017

John Howard and Tim Fischer marking the 20th anniversary of their 1996 election

Port Arthur invoked ahead of by-election

John Howard and Tim Fischer marking the 20th anniversary of their 1996 election
Image © 2016 AAP Image/Lukas Coch

The Shooters Party has hit back at comments from former prime minister John Howard that its gun policies are "dangerous", labelling them a "cheap shot" ahead of the weekend's NSW by-elections.

In a letter to voters in Murray and Cootamundra published on Thursday, John Howard says the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party wants to dilute the tough gun laws his government introduced 21 years ago after Port Arthur.

"It's a cheap shot, they're desperate," Murray Shooters candidate Helen Dalton said of the latest move in the Nationals' campaign.

"Really this election has nothing to do with guns, it's to do with all of the services we're fighting for hospitals, improved water management and the unlocking of national parks for sustainable logging."

The Berejiklian government has already endured three by-elections in 2017 ahead of Saturday's polls in Cootamundra, Murray and Blacktown.

In his letter Mr Howard warned voters in the two hotly contested regional seats against the Shooters Party, citing both Port Arthur and the Las Vegas shooting massacres.

His letter was co-signed by Nationals stalwart Tim Fischer, who was deputy prime minister when the Howard government introduced strict gun ownership laws after gunman Martin Bryant killed 35 people in Tasmania.

"The Shooters' first priority is to fundamentally weaken our existing firearms laws, introduced by the Howard-Fischer government after the Port Arthur tragedy," the open letter to voters says.

"We can't take a risk on a party with such dangerous policies."

His comments have drawn the ire of Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MP Robert Brown who said there's "a hell of a lot more" to the party.

"The party was not formed to weaken gun laws, but to protect firearm owners from absolutely idiotic levels of bureaucracy," he told AAP.

"Mr Howard is drawing a very long bow. The real story here is that these couple of tiny by-elections in rural NSW are shaking the very foundations of political inertia."

Mr Howard says his government got the balance right when they introduced the laws, that banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons, but allowed farmers and sporting shooters access to firearms.

"Since then, there have been no mass shootings in Australia," the letter says.

"In light of recent world events, it is clear that these laws have worked well for our country."

But the situation is not as black and white as it would appear, according to NSW Greens spokesman David Shoebridge.

"There are few things that John Howard and I agree on, but his stance on gun control is one of them," he told AAP.

"But it's not just the Shooters party ... both the coalition and Labor have joined together to water down our gun laws in Australia."

The NSW premier has been contacted for comment.

© 2017 AAP