Field & Game Australia

NFA Review: Dodging Bullets

We’ve previously reported on the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) review, and Field & Game Australia’s (FGA’s) undertakings to limit the impact of the review.

We have campaigned for decisions around firearms in Australia to be based on facts and data. Lever-action shotguns being reclassified is a cause of concern for all law-abiding firearms owners, not just those who use shotguns.

While this concern about the consequences of reclassifying lever action shotguns was dismissed out of hand by federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan, within weeks there were federal, state and territory governments lining up to do exactly that. Facts and data clearly did not resonate enough.

However, without consulting or informing shooting organisations or the firearms industry, Minister Keenan oversaw other changes to the NFA which were approved by federal, state and territory police and justice ministers in February.

These changes affect both shooters and collectors, and include changing the word ‘should’ to ‘must’. This may seem like a minor change, but when you consider that wording is taken literally in the legal system, it has bigger implications.

When these changes were publicised, Minister Keenan changed tack and stated that the NFA is not a binding document. If the NFA is non-binding, it allows the different state and territory jurisdictions to adopt their own laws, regulations and policies.

This is concerning for all law-abiding firearm owners. The NFA could provide the basis for states and territories to re-write the current laws, regulations and policies that have been in place, and have been effective, for the last 15 to 20 years.

It was on this basis that we sought professional advice and assistance, to ensure that the changes to firearms laws were limited to the reclassification of lever-action shotguns. (This has, in effect, already been achieved largely by customs and importation regulations made in 2015.)

We worked with the Antique and Historical Arms Collectors Guild of Victoria, the International Practical Shooting Confederation, the Victorian Amateur Pistol Association, the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (NSW) and the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (Victoria) and delivered a comprehensive document setting all the changes to the NFA and their consequences to ministers at state and federal levels.

We also took this opportunity to explain the consequences of both Minister Keenan’s actions and the changes to the NFA, about which shooting organisations and the firearms industry had been kept in the dark.

Our efforts to limit the impact of the review of the NFA to reclassifying lever action shotguns have been successful.

The Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville has confirmed that the only material impact of the updated NFA is the re-classification of lever action shotguns and the removal of addresses from printed licences. Outside of this, the Victorian Government does not propose additional changes to firearms regulation that may flow from the updated NFA.

This outcome is a cause for satisfaction, but not for complacency.

On the Victorian front, a review of firearms regulations is about to begin and will involve the Victorian Firearms Consultative Committee. A number of shooting organisations and the firearms industry are members are represented on this committee, and FGA will be aiming for this committee to be properly and duly consulted, and for policy to be based on facts and data.

In the meantime, we need to be conscious that the national landscape has changed with Minister Keenan’s pronouncement that every state and territory can do what it likes. Ideas do flow across borders and what happens in one state or territory today may be the harbinger of what happens in Victoria tomorrow.

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