Friday’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Canberra is set to deliver a triumph of politics over evidence-based decision-making. It will be a sad day and it should sound the alarm for law-abiding firearm owners across Australia.
The meeting appears set to deliver an agreement to place the seven shot version of the Adler 110 lever action shotgun in the highly restrictive category D classification.
Whether Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Party leader Barnaby Joyce's public support for classifying lever action shotguns as Category B will have an effect remains to be seen.
While some legitimate firearm owners will be disappointed that this particular firearm will only be effectively available to professional hunters; the real disappointment should be about the process.
As we have been saying all along, this is not about the Adler, it is about the principle and the process.
After the 1996 Howard Government reforms we were left with a National Firearms Agreement that has served us well for 20 years. Because the prospect of a “D” classification is not based on the evidence or even rational for a lever action shotgun, a design that originated in 1886, the NFA is compromised and weakened.
A few in the gun control lobby have run a campaign underpinned by fear and misconception, and supported by bureaucrats and Police Forces around Australia, backing political leaders into a corner. That campaign has garnered significant media coverage.
While Field & Game Australia and other organisations have argued the facts and pushed for a normal technical approach to assessment and classification of the lever action shotgun, the anti-gun lobby hijacked the public debate, using the threat of terrorism or the spectre of the Port Arthur tragedy to establish an impossible context for proper decision-making.
Any government showing an inclination to do anything other than applying highly restrictive conditions on the lever action shotgun was labelled as weakening the 1996 firearms agreement and putting the community at risk.
What we stand to lose on Friday is much more than a battle over a firearm. We clearly lost the public debate and with it, the opportunity to set the right context for a decision on firearm classification.
If lever action shotguns are re-classified, it will not be the end of the matter. There are bureaucrats and Police who have been arguing for years that lever action and pump action rifles should be re-classified.
As part of our lobbying efforts, FGA has engaged with politicians of all persuasions across Australia. We have had unwavering support from many while others, as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said so eloquently were “not for turning”.
The vast majority of our politicians sit in the middle ground, holding no firm view either way and open to representing the views of their constituents. During discussions, this cohort of politicians consistently reflected the view that in their electorates the debate about the NFA and the reclassification of the lever action shotgun was not a hotbed issue generating a lot of noise.
We have to ask ourselves why as a collective, given the importance of the decision, we did not make more noise.
We thank those who did take the time to write to their local member or state Police Minister, we expect you will do so again after Friday’s COAG meeting to express your disappointment if lever action shotguns are re-classified and, if it is not re-classified to support those Premiers who based their decision on facts and data rather than emotion and expediency.
If Friday pans out as is being predicted, we will be entering a new political reality in relation to firearms; one where perception and politics overrides facts and data and even when something “ain’t broke”, you can still argue to fix it.
What it means is that across the board we need to be more active and organised as both representative bodies and individuals.
We cannot continue to wait for a crisis point to write a letter or phone your local MP, we have to maintain a consistent noise level that does not allow that cohort of undecided MP’s to become deaf to our logic and concerns. We must be part of the public debate and not allow a skewed version to go unchallenged by letters to the editor or public posts on comment threads.
If we fail collectively to put our case at every opportunity the skewed version becomes the perceived reality and in the case of the lever action shotgun, the political imperative.
Not all will have been lost.
A ban on greyhound racing in New South Wales, implemented on a political view that it had lost its ‘social licence’ to operate in the wake of a report into animal cruelty was soon reversed.
While organisations that had long campaigned for the ban were still cheering, the industry and more crucially the individuals in communities affected economically and socially by the ban began making noise – enough to shake the backbench.
We need to raise the noise level. Write to your local member and State or Territory Police Minister and tell them in your own words what you think of the decision which has been made. Write to your local paper as well.
There are also a couple of media polls running you can contribute to;
You can also support Field & Game Australia in telling the real story of Australia’s most surprising conservationists by clicking the link below. Our campaign to secure your future is doing exactly what this post recommends – shaping the public debate by debunking the myths and presenting firearm owners and hunters in the correct context.