Academic article on appearance laws exposes further policy flaws

By Kate Fantinel

An academic article has found further proof that banning firearms based on their looks is an impractical policy that requires more transparency, rather than the current “ad hoc” approach. The peer-reviewed paper raises many issues that appearance laws create, not just for licensed firearm owners, but for police departments and the general public.

The paper ‘Judging a Book by its Cover: The Challenges of Prohibiting Firearms by their Appearance’, published in the University of Tasmania Law Review, explores how firearms that “substantially duplicate the appearance of a prohibited firearm” can be outright banned, even if functionally they are technically legal. A hangover of the many unintended consequences of the 1996 National Firearms Agreement, the SSAA has long argued that the laws are purely subjective and unworkable.

As the article notes: “Unlike function, appearance refers to the ‘outward look of the firearm only, how it is viewed through casual observation’. Appearance does not incorporate any element of a firearm’s mechanism or mechanics.” It goes on to say that: “Legal inconsistencies between jurisdictions, a lack of administrative uniformity, and difficulty in identifying a public function are all significant challenges.”

The author, Samuel Diprose Adams, heard about the issue through his gun club in Tasmania, following the release of concerning enforceable guidelines by Tasmania Police, which the SSAA reported at the time. “There are many category A and B sporting collectable rifles that are captured by the different state and territory provisions prohibiting firearms based on their appearance; the Barrett M98B for example,” Samuel said. “The article raises issues of importance for Australian society generally, not just firearm owners.”

A passionate militaria collector, Samuel’s interest in gun control law developed while completing his studies in Law, Business and Philosophy. “Parliaments and governments should be held accountable for the legislation they promulgate and enforce,” he said. “They must provide clear public policy reasons for creating and enforcing the legislation, particularly when it impacts on the enjoyment, investments or livelihoods of more than one million Australians [who are licensed firearm owners].”

Importantly, Samuel’s article has been peer-reviewed by two other anonymous academics and fills a gap, with little formal research conducted into the issue. The SSAA will promote and cite this research as we continue to advocate for evidence-based firearms policies. As we have repeatedly stated, a firearm cannot ‘verge’ on being a particular type of firearm; it either is, or it is not.

Samuel Diprose Adams, ‘Judging a Book by its Cover: The Challenges of Prohibiting Firearms by their Appearance’ (2017) 36(2) University of Tasmania Law Review 49, 49-67.

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