NEWS

Australia's Gun Laws Aren't As Tough As You Think, And Standards Are Slipping

Alarm over silencers, licensing and minors' access to weapons.

05/10/2017 10:50 AM AEDT | Updated 05/10/2017 10:50 AM AEDT

Despite Australia's pride in its strict gun laws and landmark National Firearms Agreement, not one state or territory has ever fully complied with the weapons control instrument, a new report revealed on Thursday shows.

Indeed, standards are even slipping nationwide, the report from the University of Sydney claims.

21 years After the National Firearms Agreement, commissioned by Gun Control Australia and written by Adjunct Associate Professor Philip Alpers and Amelie Rossetti of GunPolicy.org, paints a worrying and surprising picture of firearm laws nationwide.

The 1996 National Firearms Agreement, brought in following the Port Arthur massacre which left 35 people dead, has been held up internationally as an example of effective government intervention to deal with gun-related crime.

However, the report says not one jurisdiction around the country ever got around to fulfilling every condition of the agreement.

"While the most important provisions of the NFA remain substantially intact, no jurisdiction fully complies," Alpers said.

"Every jurisdiction has slipped backwards by varying degrees. NSW is the most obvious example of compliance 'slippage'."

New South Wales, the report said, has permitted silencers, extended the availability of semi-automatic weapons, and has eased restrictions around licensing.

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The NFA sets out conditions such as that automatic or semi-automatic longarms would only be allowed for use by military, police or occupational shooters (such as for pest control), that all firearms would be severely restricted for use to only those with a 'genuine reason' to own them, and that gun licence applicants need be aged over 18 and undergo adequate safety training.

However, the report outlines that "every State and Territory allows minors to possess and use firearms," with licencing ages ranging from 10 to 16 years, while some jurisdictions allow people to be trained in firearm use without holding a licence.

The report claimed that "non-compliance from day one, and two decades of political pressure, have steadily reduced restrictions and undermined the NFA's original intent."

The review of the NFA sets out issues in each state and territory, including:

NSW

  • Allows the use of firearms silencers, which are a prohibited weapon
  • Extends permissions for the use of semi-automatic firearms to shooters whose occupation is not pest control
  • ​​​​​Permits people to be trained in the use of firearms without undergoing firearms licensing
  • Adds membership of a hunting club as a 'genuine reason' for firearms possession.

Northern Territory

  • Authorises the possession of a pistol or revolver during the first six months of a handgun licence
  • Permits to acquire second or further firearms may be exempt from the 28-day cooling off period
  • Although personal protection is not regarded as a genuine reason for owning, possessing or using a firearm in any jurisdiction, this is still not stated in Northern territory legislation.

Queensland

  • Authorises the possession of a pistol or revolver during the first six months of a handgun licence
  • Production of a valid firearms licence is not mandatory for the purchase of ammunition
  • Specifies in legislation no limit on the quantity of ammunition which may be purchased
  • Firearm licensing proof of identity and photographic identification procedures are less stringent

South Australia

  • Authorises the possession of a pistol or revolver during the first six months of a handgun licence
  • Production of a valid firearms licence is not mandatory for the purchase of ammunition

Tasmania

  • Does not comply with any of the licensing resolutions of 2002 to regulate pistol club members

Victoria

  • Permits to acquire second or further firearms may be exempt from the 28-day cooling off period
  • Authorises the possession of a pistol or revolver during the first six months of a handgun licence
  • Specifies in legislation no limit on the quantity of ammunition which may be purchased

Western Australia

  • Permits to acquire second or further firearms may be exempt from the 28-day cooling off period
  • Firearms sales are not limited to licensed firearms dealers, and not all particulars must be recorded
  • Specifies in legislation no limit on the quantity of ammunition which may be purchased
  • Does not require that collectors' firearms be rendered permanently inoperable

WA, NSW, QLD and Victoria were also singled out for their reluctance in complying with a national firearm registry, "a goal now delayed for over two decades", the authors wrote. It was also noted that rules for firearm and ammunition collectors, museums and heirloom weapons, firearm safety warnings and security for firearm transfers did not live up to the standards set out in the NFA.

"It is important to reiterate that current legislation in most States and Territories complies with most NFA resolutions. As is true of any form of firearm regulation, the examples above apply only in limited circumstances. Yet each exception to the NFA arguably opens the door to further dilution of the national agreement," the report said.

"Attempts to undermine and circumvent the provisions of the NFA are persistent, and have often been successful."

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Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon

This concern was raised by Greens senator Lee Rhiannon last year, when she was appointed the party's gun control spokesperson. At the time, she told HuffPost Australia of her worries about "complacency" around guns, cites the rising power of the Shooters Fishers and Farmers party in NSW state parliament (who hold the balance of power in the upper house), and moves to overturn a ban on the Adler 110 lever-action shotgun spearheaded by federal senator David Leyonhjelm and then-senator Ricky Muir, as concerns.

"If you look at what's going on with the conservative side of politics, they're advancing measures to relax gun control. There's a real political side to it, with the Shooters party winning more support, the Nationals under pressure and looking to advance their connections with the shooters lobby," she said.

She cited the 2012 deal struck between the NSW Liberal government and the Shooters -- where recreational shooters would be permitted to cull feral animals in national parks, in exchange for the Shooters party supporting the proposed electricity grid selloff -- as an example of gun control laws being eroded.

"We have a very unhealthy coming together of those who want to weaken gun laws and those who want to gain political power... there is a grouping in the right wing of Australia who have identified that there is a large group of shooters and they can appeal to them," she said.

Read the full report on GunPolicy.org.

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