Opinion

Crisis averted — for now

CPI Strategic director and Field & Game Australia adviser Rick Brown provides an analysis of the National Firearms Agreement review and what the political manoeuvring means for legitimate firearms owners.

Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan has announced the Federal Government will not change the National Firearms Agreement.

When making his statement, Mr Keenan made the point that imposing even more restrictions on law-abiding firearms owners and the use of registered firearms would not affect the illegal gun market or crimes involving the use of illegal firearms.

However, the Government’s decision to not impose further restrictions on licensed gun owners has not been a foregone conclusion, and the role of the National Party in securing this decision has been vital. The decision sharply contrasts with Labor’s position; they tried pressuring Malcolm Turnbull to ban the importing of the Adler lever-action shotgun.

Had they been successful, it would have led not only to a ban on lever-action shotguns but also provided the basis for bureaucrats and the anti-gun ownership lobby to pursue their long-held desire to re-classify lever-action and pump-action rifles and review the National Firearms Agreement.

They came close to achieving their aims last year when bureaucrats persuaded key people in the Government to link the Port Arthur massacre to the Adler, and the Adler to terrorism, in order to justify its banning.

This plan was countered only at the eleventh hour.

The outcome was that Adlers with a capacity of not more than five rounds were not re-classified, but the importing of Adlers with a capacity of more than five rounds was put on
hold pending the review of the National Firearms Agreement.

Because few politicians or their staff own firearms and therefore know anything about them, it was easy to say the Adler represented the use of new technology, even though lever-action firearms have been around for 100 years. Consequently, it was critical that Mr Keenan was
persuaded to establish an industry committee to provide him with advice on issues related to the review of the National Firearms Agreement.

This committee was able to provide a different perspective on the issues from the committee of state, territory and Federal Government bureaucrats and law enforcement officers who conducted the review.

David McNabb, the general manager of Field & Game Australia, is a member of the committee.

Informing state and federal politicians about the facts and data surrounding lever-action shotguns and the broader implications of re-classifying them has been critical, just as it was critical in responding to the Greens-initiated Senate Committee inquiry into gun-related
violence.

As the anti-gun ownership lobby became aware their plan was meeting resistance, they responded. Some bureaucrats maintained the position that Adlers with a capacity of more than five rounds should be re-classified so that recreational and competitive shooters would not be able to own them, although other bureaucrats and law enforcement officers from around the country pointed out the Adler did not represent new technology and there was not a basis for
re-classifying the gun.

Former Prime Minister John Howard appeared at a fund-raising function for the anti-gun ownership lobby, Gun Control Australia. When Gun Control Australia appeared at the Senate Committee inquiry into gun-related violence they refused to say how many members they had. It is thought that they have very few.

Subsequently Mr Howard had star billing on an SBS programme about Australia’s gun laws. It may be that Mr Howard wants to protect his legacy, including talking up the importance of the
1996 gun laws. But then again, in 2002 he said: “I hate guns. I don't think people should have guns unless they're police or in the military or in the security industry.”

The National Party was critical in persuading the Government to base its decisions on facts and stare down the antigun ownership lobby as well as informing politicians across the country about the facts and implications of re-classifying the Adler.

While we have seen off this attempt by opponents of private gun ownership to impose further restrictions on lawabiding firearm owners, this is not a final victory. They are constantly looking for opportunities to further their cause and we cannot be complacent.

Shooters cannot take their ability to participate in their sport for granted and need to place a high priority on informing and educating a city-dominated society, which has little knowledge of guns, about the differences between the legal and illegal ownership of guns and facts about
legal gun owners and their firearms.

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