We need balance when talking about firearms

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen yet another scare campaign by the Greens on firearms ownership, trying to stir-up emotions and get more runs in the media.

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 This sort of fear-mongering is part and parcel of what we’ve seen on the firearms debate this country over the past 20 years. Unfortunately, the Greens never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Let’s start with some base facts, starting with noted ANU Criminologist Dr Jason Payne, on ABC Radio Canberra recently:

“To know … that registered firearm usage has increased I don’t think should alarm people around the potential use of those firearms in the illegal context, because we don’t know from any research that there’s any relationship between those two,” he said.”

“[Suggesting] … that somehow an increase in the use of firearms for recreational purposes would somehow translate into an increase in the rate in which firearms are used illegally is, I think, a bit of a stretch in this case.” 

In 1996, John Howard’s firearms restrictions came as a swift political and public relations response to a tragedy in Port Arthur. He admitted that he had to be seen to be doing something, so that’s why we saw increased restrictions on law-abiding firearms owners. Let’s not also forget that all of the people affected by these laws were farmers, hunters and sporting shooters – all with legitimate reasons for using firearms in their day to day lives. Our argument at the time was that this wouldn’t have any impact on the firearm homicide rate, and 20 years later the statistics bear out that prediction. A recent systematic review study published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behaviour by Dr Samara McPhedran of Griffith University has proved our point. Dr McPhedran’s research shows that “no study found statistical evidence of any significant impact of the legislative changes on firearm homicide rates” in Australia. None. The real problem we face in New South Wales, and indeed Australia-wide, rests with illegal firearms. NSW Justice and Police Minister, Troy Grant, said on November 5 last year that:

“Greater that 97% of firearm incidents reported in New South Wales relate to unregistered, unbranded, unlicensed firearms. The opportunists out there like David Shoe bridge from The Greens will exaggerate the narrative … to make a story that is simply not true.

” … Victims of gun crime … are victims of illegal guns and unregistered guns – not the ones you buy at firearms dealers.” 

I feel like I’m repeating these facts over and over again until I’m blue in the face, but the reality is that the truth isn’t as sensational as the Greens hyperbole when it comes to firearm ownership. The figures presented by David Shoebridge in his ‘Too Many Guns’ campaign are both misleading and irresponsible. They are misleading because the high concentrations of firearms he reports correlate with the locations of registered firearm dealers, and irresponsible because it’s providing a shopping-list of suburbs for criminals to target. It also doesn’t account for historical firearms collectors. These firearms held by collectors are only exempt from current restrictions if they’re considered “obsolete”, and this usually covers firearms with percussion mechanisms or pre-percussion mechanisms. If they aren’t considered to be “obsolete”, by virtue of their make and model, they’ll be largely treated the same as other firearms, regardless of whether actually firing it would irreparably damage an important historical artefact. Firearms owners are already subject to a number of security measures, such as safe storage in safes that must have separate keys and locks for firearms and ammunition, and rolling checks by local Police. I’m surprised, however, that the NSW Firearms Registry was so thoughtless to provide this data on individual firearms ownership by postcode. Mr Shoebridge also suggests -to improve the appeal of his story- that firearms owners should need to present a legitimate reason why they need to acquire a firearm when they have greater than five. He conveniently ignores the fact that current regulations require that a genuine reason must be presented for each firearm a person acquires. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers will continue to educate the public on the facts surrounding firearms ownership. Our cause grows ever-difficult, however, when somebody else in search of a quick headline decides to point the finger at law-abiding firearms owners. Illegal firearms proliferation and use must be our collective focus if we are to truly solve the issue of gun crime in Australia. Whether they are farmers, hunters, or target shooters, law-abiding firearms owners deserve not to be constantly branded as criminals-in-waiting. That just lets the real criminals win. Robert Brown is a member of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and a Member of the NSW Legislative Council.