In the face of continuous highly vocal – and sometimes vitriolic – opposition, gun-control campaigner Samantha Lee never wavers.
Before the bloody murders at Port Arthur in 1996, Lee was already a stalwart of the National Coalition for Gun Control, having volunteered to help the formidable Rebecca Peters who established the organisation.
By the time of the massacre that left 35 people dead and 18 injured, Lee was involved for about a year in – later becoming the head of – what is now Gun Control Australia.
A natural empathy for people and a strong sense of social justice drew Lee to gun control advocacy.
“I was about the university at the time Rebecca, who was a friend, was setting up the National Coalition of Gun Control and I began helping out as a volunteer,” she says.
“I always had sympathy for peaceful ways of being. I knew the impact of grief and had studied social work before law.
“I was aware of wanting to live in a society where guns weren’t prolific.”
So, that little bit of volunteering with Peters in the early days of the organisation grew to the extent that Lee became a passionate and powerful voice of the gun control movement.
Keeping hold of, and even building on, the tighter gun-control legislation enacted by the states and territories following the National Firearms Agreement in the wake of Port Arthur, is an ongoing battle for the lawyer.
The meaningful and real change to gun laws in 1996 should never be allowed to unravel, she says – but warns the threads are loosening.
“It’s been 25 years and with time politicians feels a bit more lax,” Lee says.
And while Australia doesn’t have a National Rifle Association equivalent, there are loud and powerful groups aiming to water down gun ownership legislation, she says.
“Big business – gun importers and exporters – recreational shooters and far right groups are urging politicians to chip away at the laws.”
Recent reports have shown Australia’s gun laws have been watered down in all states and territories.
Lee warns while we are still far better than the US, continuous chipping away at the laws – and failing to keep them updated as firearms technology changes – means Australia risks losing what it achieved post Port Arthur.
Asked what her big achievements in this field have been, Lee has no doubt it is exposing the workings of the gun lobby.
“Back room deals do go on and we have to be vigilant,” she says.
Not the voice of Gun Control Australia anymore (Lee stood down but is still on the Board) she is still keeping watch.
Her fear is that a whittling away of what was achieved following Port Arthur is going unnoticed and unchecked.
“Gun laws aren’t on the political table or part of public discourse for the most part. We have a tendency to react to tragedy rather than work to prevent one.
“That’s why we still need organisations such as Gun Control Australia and the Australian Gun Safety Alliance.”
But despite the fury of shooters that is often directed her way and the slow drip of changes to gun control laws, Lee holds hope for the future.
“Statistics show hunters are a dying breed. Young people don’t take it up in the numbers they once did,” she says.
“Without hunters, there is less need for guns.”
When Gun Control Australia, or AGSA is not required anymore, that will be a good day she said.