A recent review by Tasmania Police into how authorities determine whether certain firearms should be restricted based purely on their appearance has sparked interest across Australia and concern for law-abiding firearm owners.
The Tasmanian Firearms Service released a draft guide to help identify firearms that “substantially duplicated the appearance of any machine gun, submachine gun, or any other fully automatic firearm.” The guidelines were supposed to clear up Schedule 1 of the Tasmanian Firearms Act, which prohibits “any machine gun, submachine gun or other firearm capable of propelling projectiles in rapid succession during one press of the trigger” and “any firearm that substantially duplicates in appearance a firearm referred to in item 1.”
The main aspect of the draft guidelines listed four features that police would take into consideration when deciding if a firearm was substantially duplicating a Section 1 firearm (fully automatic) and therefore be made prohibited. The features listed included a pistol grip; fore-end shroud; detachable extended magazine shroud or similar; or a skeleton, folding or adjustable stock.
Not surprisingly, this list of features presented a major concern for the SSAA. We have long argued against subjective appearance laws as a basis for banning firearms, pointing out that any decision should be based on functionality, not whether it “looks scary.” In response to the idea, SSAA Tasmania put forward a submission outlining why these terms were too vague and too extreme. If implemented, there would be no telling which firearms would or could be outlawed at any time. Vague guidelines for police can become dangerous down the track as someone’s interpretation today can be completely different to someone else tomorrow.
The Tasmanian Firearms Service has since responded to our concerns and decided to scrap the guidelines. While the matter remains under review by Tasmania Police, our SSAA Tasmania representatives will continue to work towards an evidenced-base solution with authorities and Police Minister Rene Hidding. Tasmania Police has also assured us that it will be working closely with firearm stakeholders who may be affected by changes, including the SSAA, should there be any.
It is also important to note that laws based on appearance still exist on some level in every state and territory. The rejected Tasmanian draft was simply guidelines on how to interpret the current appearance laws. The SSAA will continue to demonstrate that appearance laws are based on emotion rather than facts and should be scrapped and replaced with sensible, fact-based legislation.