The SSAA: poised militia or potential terrorist group?

On the eve of the leaders meeting that resulted in the farcical decision to recategorise lever-action shotguns, some left-leaning media seized on the latest timely essay by notorious anti-gun critic Philip Alpers. In his newest inaccurate research paper, Alpers ironically attacked the often heralded National Firearms Agreement (NFA): this time, for supposedly giving a “multi-million dollar boost to the shooters’ lobby.”

Published on a health website, Alpers’ erroneous essay referred to wildly inaccurate figures about the SSAA’s financial position, in a thinly veiled attempt to paint our proud Association as either a potential terrorist group or poised militia. His puff piece questioned the validity of our recreation in what can only be described as a deliberate misrepresentation of the shooting sports.

The SSAA is, of course, the biggest group of sports shooters in the country. With more than 180,000 members, 400-plus clubs, individual state and territory branches and a dedicated national body, we are proud to protect and promote the sport of shooting, as we have done since 1948. But Alpers does not see it this way, saying: “The SSAA is now one of the country’s wealthiest hobby clubs, guaranteed an uncapped income in perpetuity from a government tax on shooters.”

Just like other sporting clubs, we collect a membership fee to ensure we can continue to provide our members with a vast array of member services, from ranges, firearms training, insurance and much more. Just like the Alannah and Madeleine Foundation, which lobbied and campaigned for the lever-action shotgun recategorisation ‑ albeit based on emotion instead of evidence ‑ the SSAA also makes representation to governments about issues affecting our recreation.

But Alpers sees this as unacceptable, saying “as the law sets no limit on shooting club fees, the SSAA can charge whatever it likes” and says we have amassed “several swelling war chests worth many millions of dollars”, which somehow undermines the NFA. The SSAA is a not-for-profit (NFP) organisation that exists purely to serve our members. Assets and savings are part of any successful organisation, including NFPs, and are not against any business law. The insinuation that we should not be “allowed” to be a membership organisation or have savings and assets, just because some sections of society dislike sports shooting or firearms, borders on fascism.

Furthermore, Alpers wrongly deduces that our promotion of the safe, fun and all-abilities sport of shooting to juniors somehow constitutes a mantra to “introduce children to firearms as early as possible.” He laments that: “Most shooters’ appeals for political, financial or public support come cloaked in the name of youth safety education.”

The SSAA is proud to include juniors in our equal opportunities sport and professes that all people ‑ regardless of age ‑ should be taught the basics of safe firearms handling, in the rare event that they come across a firearm or indeed want to pursue recreational shooting or hunting. Shooting is an activity that the whole family can participate in, while many of our elite shooters develop their skills from a young age, just like other athletes.

Although most mainstream media ignored this unqualified paper, the online publication The Guardian could not wait to publish the story, practically verbatim. The SSAA requested a copy of Alpers’ original essay before responding to a request for comment, after which our numerous calls and emails to the journalist went unanswered. We are still yet to hear from the journalist, raising questions about whether the publication actually wanted to produce a balanced article in the first place. The Australian Greens Party also jumped on the anti-gun bandwagon, issuing a factually devoid press release ironically calling for more funding for gun clubs.

The final irony in this sordid story is that firearms owners are the most law-abiding citizens in Australia. We have to be, in order to retain our firearms licence and ability to continue to participate in our chosen recreation. Once again, one million sports shooters have been defamed by an anti-gun zealot who has no shame in pushing the tired old Greens’ belief that private firearms ownership should be banned. And once again, the SSAA has been deliberately excluded from the debate.

Unfortunately for Alpers, The Guardian and the Greens, the SSAA continues to achieve record membership growth in tandem with increased firearms ownership – and we are proud of it. Although there are challenges facing us, including continued attempts to impose further restrictions and deliberate misinformation spread by the media, together we can protect the sport of shooting and ensure it remains one of Australia’s oldest pastimes.

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