Field & Game Australia

Gun debate flares

Nationals Senators Bridget McKenzie and Nigel Scullion

Two Nationals Senators crossed the floor of the Senate last night as the ongoing debate about reclassifying a lever action shotgun came to a head.

Nationals Senators John Williams (NSW) and Bridget McKenzie (Victoria) crossed the floor to vote against government policy buy supporting a move by  Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm to end the ban on importing the seven shot version of a lever action shotgun.

“I am not arguing for a weakening of gun laws and I never have," Senator McKenzie said.

"Nearly one million Australians own at least one gun. We champion our Olympic shooters and we manage our feral pests," she said.

Senator McKenzie is co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting, and called out the misinformation peddled to support the ban as “wrongly conflating illegal firearms and terrorism with legitimate gun use in Australia.”

"This particular disallowance motion does nothing to change the national firearms agreement or the strong gun laws which have held us in such strong stead from a safety perspective, getting that balance right for the last 20 years," she said.

Queensland MP and the Nationals Chief Whip in the Lower House, George Christensen supported his colleagues actions.

“There will be no whipping for crossing the floor in this instance. In fact, I fully endorse the stance of the Senate backbench Nationals."

"The ongoing import ban on the Adler A110 is something our rank and file supporters are opposed to and our Nationals MPs and senators have been at pains to get the government to address."

Ministers Nigel Scullion, Fiona Nash, Matt Canavan and backbencher Barry O’Sullivan abstained from voting.

Liberal MP Ian Goodenough, another vocal supporter and keen recreational shooter also spoke up in support of overturning the ban and the Nationals actions in the Senate.

 "I have had conversations with Senators McKenzie and Williams - they have a good understanding of firearms and are frustrated that their colleagues do not comprehend the absurdity of refusing to classify the Adler."

"Their decision to cross the floor is justified as they know there are many other legally available firearms of similar capacity on the market. “

The three One Nation Senators voted as a block in support of the motion.

Field & Game Australia’s view is that the facts and data on this issue are clear; this firearm follows a design that is over 100 years old.

The recent meeting of State Police Ministers and others at the Law, Crime and Community Safety Council in Melbourne demonstrated the issues surrounding a lever action shotgun have moved beyond any policy outcome. We are now reliant on our supporters amongst elected members of parliaments around the country. Make sure your voice is heard – write to your local member, state or territory Police Minister and Premier.

Speaking points are provided here along with a list of politicians to write to.

Please take the time to write and thank the politicians who are working hard for our interests.

Read more of the Senate debate

Senator David Leyonhjelm (New South Wales) (18:10): I move:

That the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Amendment (Shotguns and Shotgun Magazines) Regulation 2016, made under the Customs Act 1901, be disallowed.

I am moving to disallow this regulation which reimposes an import ban on the Adler seven-shot lever-action shotgun. I am bound to do this to highlight the government's treachery in dealing with me and to honour my commitment to Australia's 800,000 licensed firearm owners.

On 6 August 2015, the government banned the importation of seven-shot lever-action shotguns. I immediately voiced my opposition, and, on 12 August 2015, the government agreed in writing to sunset the import ban in exchange for my vote on another matter. The sunset was due to take effect on 7 August 2016. The details of the agreement are contained in an exchange of emails which are now in the public domain. I honoured my part of the agreement: I voted with the government to oppose a Labor amendment to a bill. It was not a matter of high principle, but I would not have voted that way but for the deal.

At first, the government kept its side of the bargain, making a regulation on 4 September 2015 that would have lifted the import ban on 7 August 2016. However, on 28 July 2016, little more than a week before the sunset was due to take effect, the government made a new regulation reimposing the import ban. That is the subject of this disallowance motion.

The Minister for Justice, Mr Keenan, called me on the day he announced the reimposition of the import ban. When I pointed out that he was breaking our agreement, he told me that he had never had any intention of allowing the shotgun to be imported. In other words, the government did a deal with me, in writing, in order to get my vote, in full knowledge that it would never abide by the deal. There is a technical term for that; it is what is known as dirty dealing.

In the 45th Parliament, the government will require the support of all but two crossbench senators to achieve a majority when opposed by Labor and the Greens. Securing that support is obviously more likely if it is honourable and negotiates in good faith. But, before I go further on that, let me first consider the merits of the import ban itself.

The ban applies to lever-action shotguns with magazines of more than five rounds. It also prohibits the importation of magazines for lever-action shotguns that hold more than five rounds. The best known brand of lever-action shotgun is the Adler, which is made in Turkey, but there are several  other brands from China and Italy. Lever-action shotguns and rifles have been around for well over a century. Some say they were first sold by Winchester—lever-action rifles from 1867 and lever-action shotguns from 1887. There is some disagreement on the details around that but no disagreement about their longevity. They are not new technology. In fact, they have barely changed in over a century.

The benefit of a lever- action shotgun is that it does not have to be reloaded from shell s in your pocket, like one with a single shot or a double barrel. It is reloaded by cranking the lever. For those hunting rabbits, foxes and pigs, the ability to get repeat shots away relatively easily can mean the difference between eliminating pests and watching them escape. It is nowhere near as fast as a semiautomatic and still quite a bit slower than a pump action, but it is better than fumbling around with shells in your pocket. Lever actions also have a sporting use. There is a discipline called '3-gun practical', involving pistols, rifles and shotguns, which is not very practical if the shotgun can only fire two shots. So lever-action shotguns are used in this discipline, at least in Australia.

The idea that lever-action shotguns can be fired rapidly and that this makes them dangerous is sometimes mentioned as a reason for prohibiting them. Yes, if you crank the lever fairly quickly it is possible to fire off shots in somewhat quick succession, although not as fast as a semiautomatic or a pump action, but you cannot do that and hit what you are aiming at. There is no way of cranking a lever action while maintaining a point of aim. Shotguns have substantial recoil, which makes keeping them on target difficult at the same time as firing rapidly. In other words, if you fire quickly you will miss. If you want to hit what you are aiming at, slow fire is best. Anyone who knows about guns knows that and also knows full well that those who say otherwise are ignorant and foolish. It does not matter whether they are law enforcement, politicians or media: ignorance is ignorance. You can have your own opinions, but you cannot have your own facts.

A desperate gun control advocate might say that, 'A criminal may still choose a lever-action shotgun, because they do not care if they fail to hit what they aim at.' But lever action shotguns have never been the firearm of choice for criminals. If you saw off the barrel, you also saw off the magazine. It becomes a single shot. Not only that, but the Adler seven-shot shotgun has a barrel length of 28 inches—hardly something that you could hide down your shorts.

As I mentioned, the import ban in question covers lever-action shotguns with magazines of more than five rounds. It does not affect five-shot lever-action shotguns, which can be imported and legally owned. Like other shotguns, they are in category A, consistent with the National Firearms Agreement. The import ban also does not prevent anyone from converting a five-shot Adler into a seven- or eight-shot simply by fitting a longer tube magazine. There is nothing illegal about it, and plenty of people are doing it. The only restriction is that the longer magazine has to be made in Australia, because the import ban means they cannot be imported. Thus, the import ban achieves nothing. It is certainly not preventing the ownership and use of seven-shot lever-action shotguns. Not that there is anything special about the presence of two extra rounds in the magazine. They do not transform it from a safe firearm to a dangerous firearm. Neither a mass murder nor a terrorist attack is more likely because of those two extra rounds. Being a shotgun, its range is very limited. Whereas a lever-action rifle might have a danger range of 500 metres, a lever-action shotgun is not much of a threat beyond 60 or 70 metres. It is worth remembering that the permitted magazine capacity of the lever-action rifle, as with any other rifle, is 10 rounds. Ten rounds is also the magazine limit on pistols—many of which are semiautomatic.

Of the more than 800,000 firearm owners in Australia, relatively few want to own a lever-action shotgun, and very few care whether their lever-action shotgun holds five rounds or seven. However, every one of them knows the implications of creeping regulation on their sport. They know if it is lever-action shotguns today, it will be something else tomorrow. The firearms section in the Attorney-General's Department has had an agenda of incremental restrictions on firearms for over a decade. Semiautomatic pistols, pump action rifles, lever-action shotguns and lever-action rifles are on the list. The 800,000 firearm owners in Australia will not take this lying down. Indeed, I am making it my business to ensure that they all know what is being done to them. For the government, there are a lot of votes to be lost and not one to be gained on this issue.

This disallowance is about much more than the fact that the government has failed to stick to an agreement. It is about what is being done to sporting shooters—taking yet another slice off the salami, yet another step in the process of disarming law-abiding Australians, preventing them from enjoying their sport, hunting and collecting activities. It is about another step towards a disarmed society, where only the police, military, security guards and criminals have guns.

Some might see what happened to me as part of the cut and thrust of politics. I do not. There was cut and thrust in the negotiation of the agreement. The government could have chosen, at any time, to withdraw. Instead, they gave their word, which they have now broken. It is about trust. In the interests of all the negotiations to come, I call on government senators to support the disallowance of this regulation. In the interests of fairness to 800,000 decent, law-abiding Australians, I call on all senators to support the disallowance.

Senator Bridget McKenzie (Victoria) (20:08): My contribution will be short. I am a licenced firearm owner. I am chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting group. In response to Senator Wong, we have strong gun laws in this country, and the passing and debating of this motion does not change the strong gun laws in this nation which are a result of state governments agreeing to licence and regulate firearm ownership and use in this country under the National Firearms Agreement. That does not change with this motion.

Nearly one million Australians own at least one gun. That is the reality. There are a lot of us who do not think that is necessarily a bad thing. We champion our Olympic shooters and we manage our feral pests. There are social benefits, particularly with those who came to Australia through the 1950s. Our immigration story of the 1950s has resulted in a very strong family connection to hunting through, particularly, our Italian community. There are economic benefits that hunting and shooting bring to the Australian society and a $1 billion dollar industry employing tens of thousands of Australians.

This debate is just full of so many mistruths as people conflate the tragedies of Port Arthur and Lindt Cafe. Increased gun crime—which is an absolute indictment on our law enforcement agencies at a state level and at a federal level—on the streets of our cities from illicit firearms conflates the threat of terrorism into a public conversation where law-abiding firearm owners in this nation are derided and belittled by political elites who think they know better. We need a debate that is informed by fact, not by fiction or emotional language. If you read over the Hansard of this particular debate tonight you will see a lot of emotion. There is a lot of scare campaign out there and not a lot of fact. There is a lack of understanding in our media, for instance, around how guns are used and why, and how our current National Firearms Agreement actually works.

This debate has also been focused on a false argument around categorisation that is not based on science or evidence. For example, the lever-action shotgun currently in category A under the National Firearms Agreement has five shots. To increase that to seven is not an exponential increase in risk. I would urge anybody to bring forward the science on that and also to please bring forward the evidence of a lever-action shotgun being used in crime since the late 1800s. It just is not based on fact; it is based on fear.

I am not arguing for a weakening of gun laws, and I never have. I am calling for a debate around science and evidence. We need laws that get the balance right. This particular disallowance motion does nothing to change the National Firearms Agreement or the strong gun laws which have held us in such strong stead from a safety perspective, getting that balance right for the last 20 years. I support the motion.

Senator Brian Burston New South Wales) (18:26): I rise to speak in support of the motion moved by Senator Leyonhjelm in relation to the Adler shotgun. When people complain about politicians who are more concerned with appearance than reality, who are disconnected from normal people and who are more interested in scoring points than fixing problems you would struggle to find a better example than the way this debate has been handled and the lies and misrepresentations that have been spread about.

The weapon itself at the heart of this debate should be entirely uncontroversial. If any firearm has a legitimate purpose this one does. Aside from the entirely safe and responsible practice of recreational target shooting, many farmers rely on firearms to deal with pests and feral animals that endanger both stock and the natural environment. Shotguns are in many cases the best weapon for dealing with these predators. Against a moving target at close range, they are far superior to rivals and handguns. There is a legitimate need for shotguns in rural Australia if we are to protect both our farmers' livelihoods and our national wildlife.

There is also a legitimate purpose for medium-capacity shotguns. It is common for some feral animals—pigs, in particular—to move in and about in medium-sized groups. It is not at all uncommon to see a group of five or six feral pigs running around together. If you have a shotgun that holds just two shells, the most you can hope for is to get two of those pigs. A pig that gets away is a pig that will likely inflict some very painful and very gruesome deaths on other animals. So let's have no silly talk about animal cruelty here. The cruellest thing we can do is to let these vicious predators roam unchecked. There is a legitimate reason for this gun to be sold in Australia. Not everyone will be in a situation where this gun is necessary or useful for them but some will be, and they should have the right to access it.

On the other hand, is there a compelling reason to block it? Could allowing this gun lead to massacres such as the tragic event at Port Arthur? Could it be used by underworld figures as part of their criminal activity? The simple answer to that, of course, is no. Long arms such as rifles and shotguns are tremendously impractical for committing crimes. Looking at FBI statistics from the United States on gun violence—and I think we would all agree that the US has a much bigger sample size in this regard than we do—there were 12,000 murders in 2014, the last year for which we have data. Of those murders, 262 were committed by shotgun. That is about two per cent. More people were killed with blunt objects. By comparison, there were 1,500 murders with knives in that time—about six times as many. But surely no-one is silly enough to suggest we should ban kitchen knives?

The simple fact of the matter is that long arms are very unsuitable weapons for criminal activity. They are big, cumbersome and difficult to conceal. But even these statistics overstate the danger of the Adler seven-round shotgun. While handguns are far and away the weapon of choice for gun murderers, it is true that a small number will use sawn-off shotguns. By cutting off the barrel of the gun, a shotgun can be made more concealable and more suited to crime. It is uncommon, but it does happen. And this is where a significant proportion of the 262 shotgun murders come from. However, the Adler seven-shot shotgun cannot possibly be used in this way. This particular weapon has the magazine built into the barrel of the gun. If you were to attempt to saw off the barrel of one of these guns, you would ruin the weapon and make it unusable for anything.

So, this is a gun that has a very valid and legitimate purpose, and which is exceptionally unsuited for carrying out violent crime. If any gun should be allowed in Australia, it is this one. Indeed, the five-shot version is perfectly legal, and it is also perfectly legal to purchase a magazine extension to increase the capacity of that version to seven. So, there are already perfectly legal seven-shot Adler shotguns in the country. Where is the murder spree? Where is the chaos and violence? But God forbid those larger magazines are built in instead of added on. That difference, we are to believe, will kill us all. The rhetoric around this issue has been hysterical. The Leader of the Opposition, among others, has claimed that allowing this weapon would be watering down John Howard's gun laws. What utter nonsense. Guns of this nature were never banned under Howard's prime ministership. This is not John Howard's legacy; it is Tony Abbott's and Malcolm Turnbull's. John Howard's laws were targeted at automatic and semi-automatic weapons. The Adler is neither of these. It is a manually reloaded, lever-action, single-shot weapon.

We are not talking about a machine gun or an assault rifle here. Yet we see responsible gun owners treated like trigger-happy psychopaths, for the crime of wanting to practise responsible pest management. It is like there is a cloud of unreality that hangs over this building, and the people in it occupy an entirely different world to people outside. They live in a world where peace-loving Australians are champing at the bit to go on murder sprees just as soon as they can get a seven-round shotgun instead of a five-round one. I know there are some among the National Party here who know exactly how crazy this whole confected controversy is. And yet they feel constrained from speaking too loudly or clearly in opposition to it, because they are beholden to their Liberal Party masters. You can hardly be surprised, then, when their voters turn to parties that are not wholly owned subsidiaries of the Liberals, as they did in Orange.

Beyond the facts of the issue, there is another principle at stake. That is the principle of standing by commitments. I speak here of my crossbench colleagues, some of whom, I recognise, may have a very different view than me on firearm regulation. The deal that was struck by Senator Leyonhjelm with the government on this issue was a concrete deal, in writing, and it has become clear that the government never had any intention of honouring it. Even worse, they have had the shamelessness to claim no deal ever existed—even though the text of their agreement is now publicly available for everyone to see. We hear claims that we now live in a post-truth society, and, watching the brazen behaviour of the Liberal Party on this issue, one can feel sympathy for that assessment.

If the government is able to break faith on this issue, for no good reason and with no consequence, one could hardly blame it if it decided it could get away with it while dealing with Senator Hinch, Senator Lambie or Senator Xenophon. Governments, both Liberal and Labor, will break their promises sometimes. We all know this. But I see no reason for we crossbenchers, or for the Senate as a whole, to assist them in doing so. Say what you mean, and do what you say—that is the standard that the Australian people demand, and that is the standard that we should hold this government to. Pauline Hanson's One Nation is proud to support the motion proposed by Senator Leyonhjelm.

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