Maintaining Australia's World Class Gun Laws

National Stakeholder Information Bulletin

June 2017

 

 Introduction

 The Alannah & Madeline Foundation (the Foundation) was set up in memory of Alannah and Madeline Mikac, aged six and three, who were tragically killed with their mother and 32 others at Port Arthur, Tasmania, on 28 April 1996.  Our mission is to keep children safe from violence.

The gun laws that came out of the nation’s worst gun related tragedy have helped keep our country safer.   They are administered with consensus by all State and Territory governments and the Commonwealth through COAG and have been in place for twenty years.

In 2017, following the report of the Martin Place Siege:  Joint Commonwealth – New South Wales review and the Inquest into the deaths arising from the Lindt Café siege, Australia has a new National Firearms Agreement (NFA).

We believe that the Australian community will want the 2017 NFA agreement to be implemented in full.

This Stakeholder Information Bulletin is the first in a series that aims to provide high quality and reliable information about our gun laws, and any proposed changes.  We think our gun laws are an important part of what keeps Australia safe.

Why we can’t be complacent

The 1996 Firearms Agreement after Port Arthur provided the framework for firearm regulation in Australia.  It was based on the principle that people should only have guns if they have a ‘genuine reason’ and ‘need’ to use them.  ‘Self-protection’ was accepted as not a genuine reason to have a gun.

Since 1996, there has not been a public mass shooting in Australia.  The gun-murder rate has more than halved.  This has allowed many of us to think that Australia could never develop a dangerous gun culture and that individually we are at minimal risk of experiencing gun violence.

While there is good support for strong gun laws amongst the public, there is great pressure by some to ‘relax’ our laws.

The anti gun law lobby is vocal.  It is committed to making gains in the deregulation of guns.  Campaigns to ‘Stop the 2017 National Firearms Agreement!’ are underway by organisations such as the Shooters Union Australia.

In the Commonwealth Parliament, the Liberal Democratic Party’s Senator David Leyonhjelm has made no secret of his support for gun deregulation.  Similarly, Bob Katter, MP has opposed the changes to the classification of lever action shotguns.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party has members in three state upper houses – two in the New South Wales Legislative Council, two in the Victorian Legislative Council and one in the Western Australian Legislative Council.  In November 2016, the party won its first lower house seat in NSW, winning the seat of Orange in a by-election.  The party is committed to establishing ‘family and home protection’ as a genuine reason for firearm ownership and to reduce the ‘burden’ on firearm owners.

The influence of pro-gun groups on State Parliaments can be seen in matters such as the use of firearms in gun clubs without a license; allowing minors to use guns; increasing access to national parks and state forests for hunting; and reducing record keeping requirements on who owns guns and how many they have.

This law lobby has had some success in weakening elements of Australia’s gun control regime.  It argues on a State by State basis for concessions in implementing our national gun agreements.  This undermines the effectiveness of those arrangements by putting a number of small holes in the National Framework.

The Foundation believes there should be no deal making involving gun regulation.  The Australian community does not want to see any reversal of the reduction in the rate of gun homicide that has occurred since the 1996 Port Arthur tragedy.

Why was the National Firearms Agreement revised in 2017?

It has been 20 years since the 1996 National Firearms Agreement was established.  While it was ground breaking, it left some things undone.

In January 2015, the report of the Martin Place Siege:  Joint Commonwealth – New South Wales review recommended that priority be given to effective nationwide registration and tracking of all firearms, that further consideration be given to measures to deal with illegal firearms; and the technical elements of the National Firearms Agreement be updated.

The 2017 National Firearms Agreement implements the COAG decision on lever action shotguns and amalgamates the 1996 National Firearms Agreement and the 2002 National Handgun Agreement into a single point of reference for firearms regulation in Australia.

What’s changed in the 2017 NFA?

There have been some good changes proposed:

Under the 1996 NFA, lever action shotguns generally were treated as Category A firearms.  Lever action shotguns with a magazine capacity of no greater than 5 rounds are now in Category B.  This makes them available to recreational and sports shooters, as well as primary producers (more colloquially ‘farmers’) and professional shooters.  They are the only rapid action firearm classified in Category B, whereas other such weapons are in either Category C or D.

Lever action shotguns with a magazine capacity of greater than 5 rounds have been classified in the most restrictive category of firearm (Category D).  Unlike other Category D firearms such as pump action shotguns with a magazine capacity of greater than 5 rounds, the agreement doesn’t specify that the general prohibition on the import of these lever action shotguns is to apply.  The Foundation is calling on the Government to ensure that this prohibition is put in place.  Primary producers and professional shooters can gain access to these firearms if they can demonstrate genuine need.

States and Territories are being asked to consider greater storage requirements where multiple firearms are kept on the same property and to consider requiring dealers to provide their register of transactions to an appropriate authority once the dealer’s licence is no longer valid.

Renewed efforts are being made towards effective nationwide registration and tracking of all firearms.

These are important improvements, however, the Foundation believes there is room to further improve the agreement.  The lack of restriction on modification of lever action firearms, the absence of a clear limit across Category C and D firearms for those with a genuine need for them, the conditions of availability for automatic and semi‑automatic handguns and firearms storage requirements are matters that need future consideration.

Does the Alannah & Madeline Foundation support the agreement?

The Foundation supports the full implementation of the 2017 NFA.  The largest gains to community safety are to be made by ensuring the full implementation of the 2017 NFA.  The greatest gun-related risk to the future safety of our children is likely to be States and Territories not fully implementing the agreement.

The 2017 NFA will require each State and Territory to amend its legislation regulating firearms.  While there is no specific timetable for implementation of the 2017 NFA, the Commonwealth Government has indicated that the prohibition on lever action shotguns of more than 5 rounds will not be lifted until all States and Territories have introduced the new classification of lever action shotguns.

The Foundation believes that each State and Territory should review its compliance with the 2017 NFA and remove any identified loopholes at the same time as they implement the agreed classifications for lever action shotguns.  The Foundation is advocating that there be a national audit of State and Territory compliance with the 2017 NFA prior to the Commonwealth lifting of the ban on importation of lever action shotguns with a magazine capacity of greater than 5 rounds.

State and Territory action to-date

The ACT Government passed legislation to implement the new classification of lever action shotguns on 6 June 2017.

On 20 June 2017, the NSW Parliament also passed amendments to its firearms legislation to implement the new classification of lever action shotguns in that State.  On 7 June 2017, the Foundation wrote to the Premier and the leader of the Opposition raising the Foundation’s concerns about these amendments not fully implementing the 2017 NFA.

The major points raised were that:

  • It should ensure that all lever action shotguns are transitioned to full compliance with the 2017 NFA within a reasonably short period of time.
  • It should prevent a person from extending the magazine capacity of their lever action shotgun to 12 shots.
  • There should be a maximum limit of two firearms across Category C and D, rather than a limit of three Category D and two Category C firearms. Advice from the Premier was sought on what would prevent a person who may have successfully established a genuine need for a Category D firearm from readily doing so another two times and what would prevent such a person from possessing two Category C firearms at the same time.

The need for a community voice on gun control

We believe that our gun laws are important to many Australians, not just the firearms industry and shooting population.  Sadly, there are few opportunities for the broader community to contribute.

In 2014 and 2015, the Senate conducted an inquiry into ‘The ability of Australian law enforcement authorities to eliminate gun-related violence in the community’.  The Inquiry became the subject of intense lobbying by gun advocates.  These efforts were successful in preventing agreement on all but a minority of the main report’s recommendations.  Despite the importance of this topic for community safety, only three of the nine recommendations were agreed by all parties.

One of the recommendations by dissenting Senators who participated in the Senate Inquiry into gun related violence in the community was for a formal mechanism for industry and firearm user groups to be consulted on issues relating to firearms regulation.  In August 2015, the Minister for Justice established an Industry Reference Group to ensure licensed firearms users and industry representatives had input into the review of the technical aspects of the National Firearms Agreement (NFA).  We believe that this group should be broader and more representative of community interests.

The Commonwealth has announced a national campaign to support a gun amnesty to occur from July to September 2017.  It will also be responsible for the timing of any decision to remove the importation restriction on lever action shotguns with magazines of more than 5 rounds, once a decision is taken that States and Territories are sufficiently compliant with the 2017 NFA.  These are matters on which there should be a community voice.

The Foundation has written to the Minister for Justice seeking establishment of a small reference group to ensure that the perspectives and support of families, health practitioners, and emergency service personnel on gun safety issues are readily available to the Commonwealth.  This could facilitate a more balanced and informed public discussion around the NFA’s implementation.  To-date, the Minister has not agreed to this proposal.

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