WA Government’s missed opportunity to improve public safety with Firearms Act paper

The Western Australian Government’s focus on Firearms Act reform needs to redirect its attention to criminal possession and illicit firearm use to have any meaningful benefits to public safety. The Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA Inc) has reiterated this message and supported the SSAA (WA) in its submission to the State Government’s Firearms Act consultation paper released in October.

The members of SSAA’s state and territory associations number more than 217,000 who identify as firearms users on an individual level, though many work within the wider firearms industry as retailers, dealers, wholesalers and suppliers. When responding to consultation processes such as this, SSAA Inc highlights that our community accepts there should be sensible regulation of civilian firearm ownership guided by evidence-based research, while stressing the urge to focus on legislating and penalising law-abiding firearm owners will have little effect on firearm crime.

Years of evidence now exists, particularly since the introduction of the National Firearms Agreement in 1996 and National Handgun Control Agreement of 2002, that public safety is almost always threatened by the unlicensed person with the unregistered firearm in the rare case where firearms are involved in an incident.

The intention of legislation announcements out of the WA Government in the lead-up to this consultation paper have positioned the law-abiding licensed firearm owner community as the root cause of firearms-related crime in the state. This tirade of measures has been disguised as prioritising public safety but will only reduce the number of legally owned firearms in the community, bring in mental health checks which will overwhelm and undermine the healthcare system and remove high-calibre firearms, traditionally held by collectors or pest controllers working to protect the environment with the false claim that police will be targeted with those firearms.

The ‘get tough’ approach may have caught the attention of the media and some of the wider WA community with little knowledge of legal firearms in general, but has alienated the 85,000 firearm owners in WA and those around the country. It also has the potential to negatively affect the state’s economy. The shooting industry and all licensed and law-abiding shooters are an essential part of Australia’s economic and social landscape. In 2019, our industry was conservatively estimated to contribute $2.4bn to Australia’s GDP and support almost 20,000 jobs.

Western Australia has 340 licensed dealers and repairers of firearms who’ve invested heavily in their businesses. These businesses also employ hundreds of west Australians, particularly in regional and rural areas, making them an essential part of the state’s economy.

As the WA Government continues to press forward with this reform it will be imperative that trusted non-government entities represented by the WA Firearms Community Alliance (WAFCA) are involved at a policy and deliberation level. SSAA (WA) and SSAA Inc are heavily involved in WAFCA and committed to ongoing meetings with State Government representatives. This will allow the government to consult on workable solutions, communicate with the wider firearms community, target illegal use and possession of firearms and prevent the occurrence of unintended consequences from policy decisions on tens of thousands of people who do the right thing.

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