The Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA National) works closely with the international firearms community to discuss issues and legislation of relevance. Both Canada and New Zealand firearm owners are dealing with similar legislative environments to that in Australia and SSAA National Media and Politics Officer Rachael Oxborrow has worked with these groups to provide an update for Australian Shooter readers.
Canadian firearms bill progresses and buyback begins
Canada’s licensed firearm owners are the target of legislative changes and buybacks the Canadian Government says will make the country safer from criminal activities and violence. However, the Canadian Shooting Sports Association (CSSA) has grave concerns for the future of target shooting and hunting in Canada, with reduced access to firearms licenses, many makes and models of firearms and increased red tape creating significant barriers to law-abiding licensed firearm ownership.
Since 2020, more than 2000 makes and models of firearms have been outlawed and Bill C-21 – which deals with the ownership of handguns – has now passed the lower house and is expected to be passed by the Senate later this year. Meanwhile, the border between Canada and the United States remains effectively open for criminals to exploit and move illegal firearms with little consequence.
Of particular concern to the CSSA is a government-mandated ‘freeze’ on handguns preventing individuals and businesses from bringing any handguns into Canada and buying, selling and transferring handguns within the country.
Other measures, which the government has introduced in its attempts to reduce firearm crime that have drawn criticism include, magazine capacity limits to some long arms and handguns, particularly semi-automatic firearms.
CSSA Executive Director Tony Bernardo said the Canadian Government had showed zero interest in common-sense changes to improve their proposed legislation or listen to hunters, farmers and sport shooters about how Bill C-21 is negatively impacting their way of life.
“There are many measures that could be explored to help stop drug dealers, gangs and the use of illegal firearms in our major cities, but banning hunting rifles is not one of them,” he said.
“Bill C-21 does not and cannot affect gun smugglers, drug dealers, gang members or any of the hundreds of criminals who flood our streets with illegal drugs and firearms; the same violent criminals who commit murder and other violence to protect their illegal drug trade.”
As a part of measures to prohibit and ‘buy back’ all firearms with muzzle energy greater than 10,000 Joules or with a bore diameter of 20 millimetres or greater, the government was forced to backpedal and make amendments when many firearms used by hunters were ‘caught’ up in the process.
“Preventing highly-vetted and licensed firearm owners from legally purchasing firearms will not magically and miraculously stop criminal violence using smuggled, illegal guns,” Mr Bernardo said.
Measures targeting domestic violence perpetrators and other violent or repeat offenders from owning firearms are on the right track but are being poorly funded and enforced according to the CSSA. The Association is calling for law enforcement resources to be increased across the board and a no-tolerance approach employed to help address the criminal element in Canada.
New Zealand firearms online registry launches
Requirements for New Zealand’s licensed firearm owners to register their legally held firearms in the country’s newly launched online firearm registry have unfairly insinuated this portion of the community is to blame for firearm crime.
The New Zealand Government introduced the concept of a firearm registry in 2019 as a measure to address firearm crime. This was during the aftermath of a terror attack on a Christchurch Mosque that tragically took 51 lives. Rhetoric in this time suggested weak laws on firearms were identified as a key reason why the perpetrator was able to access firearms.
The Sporting Shooters’ Association of New Zealand (SSANZ), however, says the efforts to track illegal firearms through the law-abiding firearm owners is a scapegoat by the government to appear proactive in response to tragic events. Instead, they say NZ Police need to look at their internal processes, as there was a failure to properly follow their own procedures during the firearms licence vetting process that allowed the Christchurch terrorist to arm himself.
SSANZ also holds concerns that if the register was hacked or details were leaked that the information would provide a ‘shopping list’ for criminals.
When announcing the launch of the firearm register, New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said over time the registry would create a comprehensive picture of all lawfully held firearms and arms items in New Zealand linked to each individual firearms licence holder.
“The registry will give us a much clearer picture of where all the licensed firearms are, and especially when they are changing hands,” he said.
“This will allow us to better identify suspicious looking transactions, and to be better able to trace firearms that might turn up in crimes.”
New Zealand-based political lobby group the Council of Licensed Firearm Owners (COLFO), of which SSANZ is a founding member, continues to advocate in this space and is working with supporting politicians to represent the community in parliament. COLFO spokesperson Hugh Devereux-Mack said licensed firearms owners were being singled out for police failures to control gun violence.
“We see rising gun crime and then the police saying ‘the way we stop gun crime in New Zealand is bringing in further regulation on licensed firearms owners’ – it doesn’t make any sense and our community is sick and tired of being scapegoated for these failures to address the increase in firearms crime rates,” he said.
In addition to creating a digital firearms registry as a part of efforts to reduce firearms crime, the NZ Government has introduced Firearms Prohibition Orders in legislation and has enforced the buy back and prohibition of semi-automatic centrefire firearms with detachable magazines, pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns with detachable magazines or non-detachable magazines with a capacity of more than five rounds and any .22 calibre or lower semi-automatic rifle with a magazine capacity greater than 10 rounds.
NZ Police have set up a new business unit known as the Firearm Safety Authority, with 500 employees and an initial budget of $208 million over four years, to administer the registry, licence and permit applications and provide greater scrutiny of shooting clubs and ranges.
Australia’s National Cabinet preparing for register decision
Options for the National Firearms Register were informed by feedback provided by the firearms community and the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA National).
The Police Ministers Council agreed to these options in early June in preparation for the National Cabinet to consider in the next few months.
SSAA National will be able to provide a more comprehensive update on how this will look post National Cabinet.
As government continues with this process, SSAA National remains in regular contact with relevant departments and entities such as the Attorney-General’s Department and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.
Communication between the Attorney-General’s Department Firearms and Illicit Drugs Section and SSAA National has been ongoing since the election of the Albanese Labor Government in 2022 as a part of continued efforts to advocate, protect and promote firearm owners’ interests. These relationships, which allow SSAA National, the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia (SIFA) and other likeminded groups to collaborate on constructive outcomes with the government and prevent the occurrence of unintended consequences from policy decisions, are vital to ensuring our future.
Public submissions on the concept of a National Firearm Register were called for in April after Australia’s state and territory police ministers were tasked with investigating options by National Cabinet earlier this year.
Talks of a National Register began in the first few months of 2023 in the wake of a series of tragic events in rural Queensland in December 2022, when an act of domestic terrorism involving unlicensed people acting illegally with firearms resulted in tragic losses of lives. The kneejerk commentary that followed these events called for firearms law reform. 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.