SSAA slams small health and wellbeing groups’ dictatorial approach to democracy

Calls from a small health and wellbeing group to ban the firearms industry from formally meeting with governments about gun laws is both laughable and insulting. The little-known Public Health Association of Australian (PHAA) wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this week, in what can only be described as a blatant attempt to emotionally bully politicians into populist policy rather than evidence-based decision-making.

The fact is gun groups, including the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia, have been involved in discussions about policy issues affecting the nation’s shooters and hunters, to governments of both persuasions, for more than 20 years. The SSAA has always encouraged our politicians and policy-makers to talk to all parties who have a stake in the issue. At the same time, with 188,000 members and one million Australians partaking in sports shooting or hunting, we expect to be shown the same courtesy and respect.

The insinuation by PHAA CEO Michael Moore that input from firearms groups will somehow put public health at risk is insulting. The SSAA takes issue with his statement, that: “This council would enable the arms industry, which has numerous connections and funding support, to potentially alter Australian gun laws in a way which is beneficial to them but which threatens public health.”

The SSAA is not attempting to water down gun laws, nor do we want everyone to own a firearm. We stand for firearms in the right hands with the proper checks and balances in place. Unfortunately, we have seen the real-life negative effects of the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), including the many unintended consequences that severely impinge on law-abiding people, for no public safety benefit.

The only truthful statement in the PHAA media release is that the NFA is not legally binding on the states and territories. However, it is clear from its Firearms Injuries Policies that the PHAA want nationally consistent laws and the secession of firearm controls to the federal government. This would require changing the very basis of Australia’s system of federation.

Further comments that the government should “establish the mechanisms for equal input from public health experts” again shows a lack of understanding about the political process: all representative groups can and do meet with Ministers and politicians, formally or informally, as they see fit. This is good governance.

The establishment of consultative firearms industry councils, formed to allow the relevant ministers to draw upon expert technical advice and real-life experiences from end-users, was promised by both the Coalition and Labor prior to the 2016 election. The SSAA worked recently with former Justice Minister Michael Keenan on the NFA review, and productively with previous Labor governments on addressing the technical impracticalities in the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956. This included actually tightening loopholes and reworking parts of the Act that delivered no public safety benefits.

We have officially consulted with federal governments of different political persuasions for more than 20 years, including having two seats at the Rudd/Gillard Labor Commonwealth Firearms Advisory Committee.

As the largest organisation representing more than 188,000 recreational shooters and hunters, the SSAA is rightly one of the first points of call for specialist firearms advice. Our 70-year-old organisation prides itself on presenting evidence and facts about our recreation to all who are willing to listen, including interest groups like the PHAA. Our door remains open.

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