Nationals get behind electronic licensing plan

Nadia Isa

The National Party has renewed its focus on an electronic firearms licensing system, standing by Australia’s community of more than a million law-abiding firearms owners. Despite having some of the most stringent gun regulations in the world, licensing is currently spread across our states and territories and The Nats have highlighted the fact that inconsistencies across some 30 different registers and databases fuels the illegal gun-trade, tarnishing the reputation of licensed and law-abiding firearms owners.

Recently the Morrison Government announced it is working with states and territories to move from paper-based licensing systems to electronic versions so information can be shared between states and the Commonwealth in real time. Federal Assistant Minister for Community Safety, Jason Wood, said the states and territories have agreed to review their firearm management systems and identify a baseline level of functionality which should be nationally consistent.

Mr Wood, who has been talking with states, territories, the shooting industry (including SSAA) and gun control groups on the plan, said “making sure our firearms systems talk to each other is essential for effective firearms management”.

“The Australian community expects that access to firearms is limited to fit and proper people and that relevant information is readily available to those who are making decisions about whether people should have access to firearms,” he said. “Gaps in the current system mean criminals could divert legal firearms into the illegal market without immediate detection by law enforcement agencies and this can have grave consequences for public safety.”

The Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia supports the move to an electronic database with the aim of fewer human errors and allowing police resources to be redirected towards detection of criminal misuse of firearms. SSAA National President Geoff Jones said every state should use the same electronic system for firearms licensing records, firearms descriptions and permits to purchase. “This is not a difficult concept to implement,” he said. “The only hurdles would be bureaucratic impost for its own sake and parochial division between the states.”

Leader of The Nationals in the Senate, Bridget McKenzie, said the technology will also provide hard data to demonstrate to the government and law-enforcement authorities in no uncertain terms what The Nationals already know – guns used in crime do not originate from licensed firearm owners.

The facts were made abundantly clear in the 2015 Senate inquiry into the Ability of Australian law enforcement authorities to eliminate gun-related violence in the community, in which the Greens attempted to connect law-abiding firearm owners with the illicit gun trade. The hypothesis that illegal guns are mainly stolen from registered gun owners was not supported by any evidence.

Senator  McKenzie said the national database must also prioritise the security of personal information. “Many licensed and law-abiding firearm owners have been the subject of multiple breaches of privacy, with their safety and that of their families put at risk by state governments and law enforcement,” she said.

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