Calls for National Register a result of system failure

A review of submissions to the Attorney-General Department’s public consultation on the development of a National Firearms Register should hopefully highlight – at least the submissions made by groups representing law-abiding licensed firearm owners – that system failure has brought us to this point, not firearms.

Public submissions made in April are now being reviewed by relevant government agencies and Australia’s state and territory police ministers and, taking this feedback and other considerations into account, options for how a National Firearms Register could look will be discussed at a Police Ministers Council meeting this month before being presented to National Cabinet.

Talks of a National Register began earlier this year in the wake of a series of tragic events in rural Queensland last December, when an act of domestic terrorism involving unlicensed people acting illegally with firearms resulted in a tragic loss of life. The kneejerk commentary that followed called for firearms law reform and as details of law enforcement access to firearms licensing details came to light, the tune of the conversation changed to a perceived need for a National Firearms Register, which would allow police from all jurisdictions to access firearms licensee details with more ease than they can at present.

National Cabinet responded to the situation earlier this year and tasked police ministers to work towards creating a National Register. The following seven questions were presented for comment:

  • What capabilities should a National Firearms Register provide to government regulators and law enforcement?
  • Should a National Firearms Register trace more than firearms, for example firearms accessories, magazines, parts and ammunition?
  • Do you have any comments on the benefits a National Firearms Register will offer to law enforcement and community safety, including any broader benefits that should be explored?
  • What other capabilities could a National Firearms Register have that would be of benefit to the community, including to lawful firearms owners?
  • Do you have any comments on the creation of a verification service to support licensing and permit systems?
  • Do you think trusted entities should be able to electronically communicate with firearms registries and, if so, what capabilities should be available to trusted entities such as firearms dealers?
  • Do you have any comments on the information proposed to be held by a National Firearms Register?

These lines of questioning highlight some concerning topics which SSAA National have previously addressed, including subjecting law-abiding licensed firearm owners to further regulation by tracking firearms parts, privacy concerns and potential for misuse and the scope of the information that could fall within the National Firearms Register.

The elephant in the room, which each police minister would be acutely aware of, is the upgrade required to state and territory‐based systems currently in place before a National Register could function. Two major criticisms of the current systems relate to the accuracy and consistency of information uploaded and the delay in that information being uploaded affecting the currency of information. These two factors are arguably the biggest risks to public safety when it comes to law enforcement having access to relevant and current details via the Register.

As government continues with this process, SSAA National is in regular contact with relevant departments and entities such as the Attorney-General’s Department and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. Relationships which allow the government to consult on workable solutions, communicate with SSAA National, the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia and other likeminded groups to collaborate on a constructive outcome and prevent the occurrence of unintended consequences from policy decisions is imperative.

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