Senate Inquiry majority report a positive outcome for SSAA

Taxpayers must be told how many of their dollars were spent on the Greens-led Senate Inquiry into gun-related violence in the community. Released last month after many delays, the 180-page report from the Inquiry, which was held over three different cities and took close to a year to research, has no major recommendations into assisting public safety.

The SSAA immediately responded to the report, hitting out at the waste in time and public money spent on the Greens’ ideologically based Inquiry, which we suspect was nothing more than a witch-hunt to further burden the lawful licensed target shooter and hunter. “We will be issuing a Freedom of Information request to the Federal Parliament to find out exactly what this Inquiry cost the taxpayer,” said SSAA National CEO Tim Bannister.

The Inquiry was established in June last year under the guise of “combating illegal firearms crime in Australia”. Announcing the Inquiry, Greens Senator and Committee Chair Penny Wright said the committee would specifically consider a blanket ban on self-loading handguns. “There are more than 10,000 handguns on the black market…Handguns are designed to kill people – nothing else – so what justification is there for people in the community to own them?” she said.

The SSAA from the outset labelled the Inquiry as nothing more than a smokescreen for the Greens’ long loathing of private firearm ownership, cautioning against any attempt by the Greens to further restrict legitimate firearm owners’ activities. We instead insisted that the focus be put on organised criminals and ensuring the strength of our country’s borders.

Following this, the SSAA prepared a submission to the Inquiry responding to the areas under consideration. This included the effect that a ban on handguns would have on the illicit market; the adequacy of current laws to deal with 3D-printed guns; and views on stricter storage requirements, including the suggestion for mandatory alarms on firearm safes. More than 420 submissions were received from individuals and organisations, with the majority raising concerns about the apparent push for tighter firearms regulation in what is already one of the most heavily regulated activities in Australia.

After attending the public hearings in Melbourne and Sydney, the SSAA was invited to answer questions about our submission at the final public hearing, with SSAA National President Geoff Jones and CEO Tim Bannister presenting in Canberra. Throughout the hearings, Senator Wright continued to parrot to sympathetic media the line that “almost all illegal guns started out as legal firearms”, ignoring evidence presented in a number of submissions that showed the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service is not sufficiently capturing illegal imports. The discovery of more than 140 self-loading handguns delivered to criminals through a suburban Sydney post office in 2012 was presented by a number of witnesses, but Senator Wright appeared to have decided to ignore any evidence contrary to her personal views.

Senator Wright suggested on a number of occasions the need for stricter storage requirements to prevent theft, once again using the insulting line that “all illegal firearms come from licensed shooters”. She also overstated the rise of 3D-printed firearms, calling for legislation to be tightened to specifically address this, but this has been rejected by the majority of the committee. As the SSAA has pointed out, this paranoid view ignores current laws banning the manufacturing of any sort of firearm, including plastic homemade amateur firearms, without a licence.

The report itself also criticised the disappointing behaviour of Senator Wright, who continued to pre-empt the findings before, during and even after the Inquiry had tabled the report. She told ABC Radio National that she expected the fast-tracking of the National Firearms Interface (NFI) and auditing of current state and territory firearms registries to be part of the report’s recommendations, both of which were included but dissented by four of the five other active committee members. The SSAA has previously stated that an audit will not capture illegal firearms, nor will the costly NFI have any public safety benefit, as heard throughout the Inquiry.

It became quite clear during the hearings that the facts on stolen firearms, particularly regarding numbers, were inconsistent and widely unknown. Indeed, the SSAA was credited with providing factual evidence regarding this in the written report. Evidence of poor statistics included the South Australian example where the figure submitted for handguns to the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) for its now-defunct Firearm Theft in Australia reports was inverted (41,300 registered handguns recorded instead of 14,300). Figures from Victoria saw firearm parts recorded as actual stolen firearms, while Western Australia did not provide any figures at all.

The myth that Penny Wright was – and continues – peddling regarding all firearms starting off as legal firearms was certainly demolished in the report, with New South Wales Police giving evidence detailing the use of ‘shot-gunning’ as a method of illegal importation. This sees criminals ensuring firearms are broken up into parts before being posted into Australia, with the parts often going undetected by Customs. Victoria Police pointed out that some firearms are so well manufactured that they are undetected by metal detectors. The AIC gave further evidence that included false handgun deactivation as another method of illegal supply, an issue to which the SSAA alerted the government when it first arose.

The SSAA was also praised for successfully arguing the case of the damaging effect that banning self-loading handguns would have on domestic and international competitions, with our most recent success in the Commonwealth Games cited as a valid example. The report did not find any evidence to warrant any recommendations regarding handguns.

The SSAA featured once again in the report for outlining the economic benefits that recreational shooting and hunting bring to Australia, which we conservatively estimate at being about $1.5 billion a year.

It was apparent throughout the Inquiry that Senator Wright was not interested in listening to the evidence presented and had preconceived prejudices against recreational shooting well and truly in place. In fact, the majority of the committee chastised her in the report for making misleading statements to the media throughout the Inquiry and making what has now been proven as unsubstantiated claims about firearm theft and their misuse.

“The report is astounding in that only one of the active committee members has added their name to the chair’s recommendations, although some media commentators are including other sitting committee members even though they have not signed off on the chair’s report at all,” Tim said. “All other active committee members have dissented and in fact make up the majority, with their own report including constructive recommendations, including less red tape for licensed shooters and a study into the social, economic and environmental benefits of hunting across Australia.”

Dissenting committee members include Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm and Liberal Senators Linda Reynolds and Ian Macdonald who disagreed with the majority of the chair’s recommendations and put forward their own recommendations based on the evidence given.

“The Inquiry has reinforced the anti-gun position of the Greens who continue their attempts to marginalise law-abiding, licensed shooters when it’s now clearly obvious that their constant blame of the licensed shooter for the illegal firearms trade is nothing but a fallacy,” Tim said.

“The Greens have always had an ideological hatred of firearms and with virtually no significant achievement in the current federal parliament to date, they rely on inquiries such as this to gain media attention and promote their widely opposed ideas.

“While the report was a waste of resources, we are pleased that finally commonsense is prevailing and we and Australia’s 800,000 licensed firearms holders are being listened to by our nation’s legislators.

“We note with some humour that the chair has been in the media saying Senators McKenzie, Reynolds, Leyonhjelm and Macdonald have been ‘kowtowing’ to the gun lobby. Anyone who has met these Senators would know this claim is ludicrous, and perhaps Senator Wright should accept we were just right with our facts and evidence.”

The outcome, while an indulgence of taxpayers’ money, is a great outcome for the SSAA and licensed shooters across the nation. As always, we will still stand up to challenges for our members when they arise. As our motto says, the SSAA has been ‘protecting shooters since 1948’.

Majority recommendations and SSAA comments
Majority recommendation SSAA comment
Government funding for public safety awareness campaigns. Support at face value.
An Australia-wide gun amnesty. Strongly suggest it be structured so that people can submit firearms anonymously.
That a formal mechanism for the firearm industry and groups to be consulted on a regular basis be established. Support and expect to be involved.
Calls for improvements in border control and protection. Support as it reflects the evidence that illegal imports are a major contributing factor to the illicit firearms market.
Commission a study into the benefits of hunting to Australia. Support.
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