Anti-gun lobby flogging same tired old rhetoric

John Maxwell

One of the near certainties in the aftermath of the latest US gun massacre is Australian anti-gun groups and their supporting media will seek to exploit the tragedy to advance their local agenda, for example: ‘Australia’s gun lobby glosses over Texas school massacre, presses ahead with arms agenda’. Absolutely nothing in the ensuing lengthy report substantiates the deeply  offensive assertion the gun lobby “glossed over” the appalling tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24.

To back allegations the gun lobby is pressing ahead with its “arms agenda” it repeated various Gun Control Australia claims about gun lobbying and political donations. That particular headline topped a report published by Michael West Media (MWM), a niche news website describing itself as a non-partisan independent media publisher “covering the rising power of corporations over democracy”.

“Our investigations focus on big business, particularly multinational tax-avoiders, financial markets and the banking and energy sectors,” it says. That would appear to place MWM on the anti-business left and certainly no friend of companies such as Nioa which it accuses of being the beneficiary of “windfall contracts” worth $883 million to produce artillery ammunition, the term “windfall” suggesting the deal was unexpected or unearned.

The Australian Defence Organisation tends not to hand out multimillion-dollar contracts to companies without some certainty they’ll deliver what’s required at reasonable value to the taxpayer. In this case the factory for production of 155mm artillery shells, jointly developed by Nioa and defence company Rheinmetall at Maryborough, Queensland creates a sovereign capability to produce munitions which previously had to be imported.

The MWM article refers to the peak gun lobby body as the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia (SIFA) and the Sports Shooters Association of Australia and throughout the article SSAA is also variously referred to as the Sporting Shooters Association and by its correct name (three variants). Memo to MWM: It helps your credibility to nail the basics (anti-gun academic Professor Philip Alpers, quoted in the article, is at one point referred to as Ayer).

SIFA, it said, had recently opposed WA legislation “which sought to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals . . .” It’s an enduring theme of anti-gun groups that organisations such as SSAA and SIFA should have no right to lobby on behalf of their members. In the case of the proposed WA firearms legislation there’s cause for concern as while purported to be directed at keeping guns away from bikies, there appear to be provisions which would affect licensed shooters – and not for the better. For example one measure would appear to outlaw manufacture of ammunition, i.e. handloading. The law there is already viewed as draconian by shooters with a WA Firearm Licence Application – Permit to Acquire – costing $331 and $221 for each subsequent gun (in NSW a PTA costs $30).

Queensland MP Bob Katter and his party are also singled out as recipients of significant funding from the gun lobby ($100,000 each from SSAA Queensland, Firearm Dealers’ Association Qld Inc and others according to the ABC) as well as $160,000 from Nioa, none of which is too surprising as Katter is unapologetically pro-gun, his electorate is rural north Queensland and Nioa proprietor Robert Nioa is his son-in-law.

Katter also expresses some colourful (for 2022) ideas such as training high school students to shoot. That pre-dated the US school massacre and was actually a reference to the war in Ukraine and how Australia could be better prepared for conflict. That was near universally derided though there was a time not too long ago when plenty of Australian schools had their own armouries full of military firearms, with students trained in their use through school cadet units.

Yet no matter how much Bob Katter receives from the firearms industry or gun lobby groups, no matter what he says or does, anyone who thinks he’s about to undermine the National Firearms Agreement is deluded. In the wake of the Uvalde school tragedy and US debate about its gun laws, Australia and its experience post-Port Arthur was cited repeatedly in articles in the US and elsewhere, mostly along the lines of ‘Australia tightened up its gun laws in the aftermath of an appalling tragedy so why can’t the US’.

And references to Australia’s experience continue to feature errors, even by people who should do better. Here’s the UK Channel 4’s FactCheck in a detailed assessment entitled ‘Does gun control work?’ “In 1996 the Australian government banned handguns and bought back over 600,000 weapons from the public after a massacre left 35 people dead in Port Arthur, Tasmania.” Not handguns – as a five-second Google search would have confirmed.

Closer to home there’s movement in one nation to follow Australia’s example in legislating to deal with a surge in gun violence – New Zealand. Like Australia, New Zealand has been cited in the US gun debate as a nation which responded effectively to a tragedy, namely the 2019 murder of 51 worshippers in a Christchurch mosque by an Australian-born terrorist.

As in Australia, New Zealand banned semi-automatic rifles and conducted a buyback yet gun crime has soared though by global standards its murder rate remains low. Nevertheless, 92 Kiwis died by gunshot between January 2018 and May this year – including the 51 who perished in the Christchurch massacre – but even accounting for that spike the longer-term rate doesn’t appear to be falling.

Furthermore, NZ Police data reveals a growing number of firearms offences at 1308 in 2021, substantially more than the 1142 in 2019 which includes the mosque attack. Big increases were in instances where guns were used to inflict injury and intimidate or threaten, something attributed to the soaring gang-related violence widely blamed on New Zealanders deported from Australia under the former Coalition government’s uncompromising policy of ridding the country of foreign-born criminals.

These are referred to as ‘501 deportees’ after the section of Australian Migration legislation which deals with good character (or lack of), something which is now a red-hot issue in Australia-NZ relations and one raised by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern when she met our new leader Anthony Albanese during her visit in early June.

Since 2015 around 2000 Kiwis have been sent back to NZ for failing the Section 501 character test with various reasons for deportation, the most common having been sentenced to a year or more in jail. The Immigration Minister has the final say – some 501 deportees may have been born in NZ but lived most of their lives in Australia, working and raising families with their offences having been committed years earlier.

But others have serious criminal records for dishonesty, drugs, rape and violence including murder. Some were members of outlaw motorcycle gangs and, with limited prospects, many gravitated to NZ’s gangs of which there are many, variously based on ethnicity, motorcycles and locality. UK author and TV journalist Ross Kemp suggested NZ had more gangs per capita than any other country on earth and there are thought to be more than 8000 gang members in a population of fewer than five million, the surge in violence having been attributed to turf and drug wars.

So what’s to be done? New Zealand police are certainly seizing record numbers of guns and in May of last year the government took another leaf from the Australian playbook by proposing the introduction of firearm prohibition orders (FPOs) with legislation now being examined by a parliamentary committee. FPOs are in use across Australia, often to target members of outlaw motorcycle gangs as generally these aren’t the sort of people who could access guns through a regular firearms licence. FPOs go further by banning recipients from even associating with someone with firearms and giving police extraordinary enforcement powers to search cars and homes without a warrant.

To say this is unpopular with impacted parties would be an understatement. One senior bikie challenged his FPO in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and won, imperilling police plans to roll out FPOs to another 2500 crime figures across the state. But not for long. The Victorian Court of Appeal reinstated the order, declaring it was plainly in the public interest that he not be allowed to possess, carry or use a firearm. Furthermore, personal restrictions were no greater than reasonably necessary to advance the legislative objective of protecting the public against the risk of firearm-related crime, the judges said.

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