Legitimate firearms owners denied representation in the drafting of proposed new firearm regulations in South Australia will bear a heavy burden if the draft is adopted without significant change.
The Australian Deer Association and Field & Game Australia have jointly submitted a raft of amendments in response to the Draft Firearms Regulations 2017 document.
Within the draft regulations, there are numerous examples of unnecessary and unsubstantiated changes, which add layer upon layer of complexity for organisations, dealers, collectors, and individual firearms owners.
ADA and FGA sent a joint letter to the SA Police Minister in April 2016 advising we would test changes against a set of criteria. A request to participate in a closed consultation process during the drafting phase was denied.
The chief concern of ADA and FGA with the outcome to date is that facts and data do not underpin the reason for changes and in many cases the "problem” being solved hasn’t even been articulated. Particularly in terms of firearms storage regulation is being used as an inappropriate substitute for education.
We have learned to be wary of decisions that avoid facts and data and have no scientific or practical basis. These decisions are often founded on ideologies, instinct or even prejudice.
While we are encouraged, that feedback is being sought from a limited group of shooting industry representatives this is a case of putting the 'cart before the horse'.
We do not oppose regulation, but we do oppose the imposition of additional unnecessary regulation and particularly measures proposed that would compel firearms owners to act as agents of regulatory bodies.
The key changes suggested by ADA and FGA are listed below;
Section 7, Prescribed Firearms
FGA and ADA recommend that all regulations concerning imitation firearms be removed from the Firearms Act and the Firearms Regulations, instead placed in a Control of Weapons Act, as it is in Victoria.
Section 14, Special Provisions Relating to Licence Categories
FGA should be recognised within the provisions under this regulation, as the Australian Clay Target Association is, due to our standing as the second-largest firearms organisation in Australia with 17,000 members across over 60 branches in Australia.
Over 85% of FGA members compete in Simulated Field clay target shooting events, with FGA branches holding an average of 60 clay target events every month. In 2016, 35,403 competitors took part in FGA events, and the annual FGA National Championship brought $387,640 in clay target tourism to the Echuca-Moama region in 2016.
Section 19, Category 6 (security guard) Licences
That this licence does not include Category A, B or C firearms is unusual, as firearms which fall under those categories are more suitable for use by security personnel when working from a vehicle (such as armed currency or bullion transportation).
Section 23, Category 10 (collector) Licences
Holders of this licence category will be impacted by the Prescribed Firearms (Section 7) restrictions in the Regulations. Imitations or reproductions of rare and collectible firearms enable collectors to obtain good facsimiles of rare and unique firearms which would normally be out of their reach, either through price, rarity, or both.
Section 24, Category 11 (Dealer) Licences
With regards to (7)(c) and (d), we would raise the question of why these limits of identical firearms or ammunition have been imposed. There is no evidence to suggest that restricting an individual with a dealer licence only allow the display of two identical firearms, or two identical firearm parts; or more than 50 rounds of identical ammunition will have any impact on public safety. Considering that ammunition can only be legally sold to licensed individuals, these limits seem arbitrary.
Section 25, Category 12 (miscellaneous) licences
Individuals with this licence, according to the Regulations, would be unable to repair firearms and firearms parts unless they also hold a Category 11 (dealer) licence. As part of the Category 12 licence is relevant to people carrying on the business of a gunsmith, or their employees, this requirement would essentially demand that all employees hold Category 11 licences. Considering that gunsmiths routinely perform repairs, maintenance, and testing of firearms, to ensure that they operate safely and function correctly, FGA and ADA disagree with this extraordinary requirement.
Section 50, Prescribed process for acquisition of firearm
This regulation has the potential to disadvantage rural South Australians, as the closest prescribed person may be several hours’ drive from their place of residence.
Section 59, Restriction on possession of certain ammunition
We question the referral to United Nations Hazard classification Code 1.4S, as this is not widely known by the public. In addition, ‘military ammunition’ has not been clearly defined, which raises an issue with the exemption of calibres less than 19.1mm, as many ammunition types under this calibre (e.g. 7.62mm, 5.56mm, 9mm) originated as military calibres. In fact, 90% of all ammunition types has, at one time, been used for military purposes.
Section 67, Approval of Grounds of Recognised firearms clubs
There are several areas of concern in this section of the Regulations:
Regulation 2 states that applications for approval of grounds are made to the Registrar, and must be in the manner and form approved by the Registrar, must contain the information the Registrar requires, and are accompanied by the correct fee, but there is no detail given as to what these are. Given that the penalties throughout the Regulations are clearly stated, it seems unusual that the fees for applications have not.
Regulation 6 states that no activity involving the possession or use of a firearm at the grounds of the approved club may take place unless approved by the Registrar. These activities have not been defined. We would ask that this was made clearer as to what constitutes an activity requiring approval, and that evidence be provided to support this requirement, that is, is Registrar approval required for the sake of public safety, for the information of legitimate firearm users, or for some other purpose?
Regulation 6 also states that the grounds must not be subject to significant alteration without further approval; however, no detail is given as to what constitutes ‘significant alteration’. We ask that this regulation be clarified.
Section 68, Breach of Conditions of approval of grounds of recognised firearms club
The penalties throughout the Regulations, this in particular, seem extremely high when no data has been supplied to demonstrate the requirement for increased penalties.
Section 71, Acceptance of New Members
The 21-day timeframe is an unrealistic one, considering many firearm clubs’ meetings to administer membership applications are held on a monthly, or quarterly (every 3 months), basis.
In addition, there is no demonstrated efficacy in restricting illegal firearm use or improvement of public safety by requiring prospective or existing legitimate firearm users to meet requirements beyond the existing ‘fit and proper person’ background checks.
There is also no demonstrated benefit to public safety from the requirement for firearms clubs to restrict their membership applications unless the Registrar has given approval. In this aspect, there also appears to be a paradoxical requirement, where individuals applying for membership of recognised firearms clubs are unable to be granted membership unless they hold the appropriate firearms licence. Considering that one of the common prerequisites for obtaining a firearm licence is ‘genuine reason’, which can include membership of a firearms club, this regulation is cause for concern for FGA and ADA.
Section 72, Records to be kept by Clubs
FGA and ADA are concerned that the Regulations are placing further burdens on shooting and hunting clubs through the administrative and reporting requirements. The requirement for each club to record and maintain each member’s extended application details including references, Registrar correspondence, and licence details, as well as participation in activities and attendance at meetings is unrealistic, considering most shooting and hunting clubs are staffed and run by volunteers. It is also unrealistic to expect these records to be kept for at least 3 years when it is unlikely that clubs will have appropriate archival filing facilities, and also for the clubs to bear the additional costs of storage of said records.
As with Section 71, there is no demonstrated benefit to public safety by imposing further record-keeping requirements on shooting clubs with regards to individuals already deemed a ‘fit and proper person’ to hold a firearms licence.
FGA and ADA recommend that firearms licensing and registry records should be kept and maintained by the appropriate firearms licensing and registry government department.
Section 88, Reviews by Tribunal
The Regulations fail to mention that all decisions by the Registrar (and authorised officers) must be reviewable by a tribunal. (For more information, please refer to the South Australian Police Ombudsman’s Annual Report, 2016.)
Also absent is the composition or hierarchy of the tribunal. No information is given on the proposed tribunal, nor is there any indication if hunting or shooting organisations will be appropriately represented.
Part 11, Mandatory Reporting and other obligations
FGA and ADA have identified several issues with the regulations in these sections:
Basing mandatory reports off ‘suspicion’ as opposed to factual observations.
Making it mandatory for individuals who are not qualified medical professionals to make judgments on the physical or mental health of other people.
The inference that any physical illness or condition causes a person to be unsafe around firearms is highly offensive and discriminatory towards differently-abled legitimate firearm users.
These mandatory reporting regulations create the opportunity for malicious and false reports, including employers and employees of commercial operators.
Sections 98 and 99, Disposal of forfeited or surrendered firearms, and return or disposal of seized item
Protections against the sale, destruction, or seizing of personal property have always been enshrined in our laws. FGA and ADA support the current process, where any destruction or disposal of personal property, after a number of proper attempts to contact the owner, must be accompanied with a Court Order detailing this destruction or disposal.
Schedule 1, Code of practice for the security, storage and transport of firearms, ammunition and related items
Those legitimate firearm users who have previously purchased commercial or manufactured gun safes in accordance with the previous requirements may now be forced to replace their current firearm storage. With some 65,000 licence-holders in South Australia, a significant number will be required to purchase new storage safes. Will there be any sort of buy-back on the superseded safes, or a subsidy or some form of recompense to these law-abiding firearm owners to support their compliance with these new requirements?
In 2015, the report from the Senate Inquiry into the ability of law enforcement authorities to eliminate gun-related violence in the community was tabled.
Inquiry Chair Senator Penny Wright wrongfully claimed that “most illegal guns are not trafficked into Australia, they are stolen from registered owners”. This misinformed statement was raised in the dissenting report.
The submission made by FGA detailed the low percentages of legal firearms which end up being used in criminal acts, and drew attention to the Inquiry’s biased Terms of Reference.
“The Terms of Reference… seem to be indicating that the source of firearms used in violent crime are coming equally from licensed firearm owners, and criminals. The blurring of lines between legitimate firearm ownership and criminal use is not supported by Australian Institute of Criminology reports.”
The outcomes from the Inquiry were two sets of recommendations. No recommendations were given to impose further burdens on legitimate firearm users, only to implement nationally consistent regulation in the areas of firearms, firearm parts and firearm accessories; ammunition, and firearms storage.
The Regulations currently seek to impose further restrictions for the carriage, transport, and storage of firearms which is inconsistent with the rest of Australia. FGA and ADA recommend that the code of practice for security, storage and transport of firearms should in fact be primary legislation, not regulation.
In reference to the commercial transport of firearms, the requirement for commercial transport (i.e. courier or parcel delivery) to obtain the approval of the Registrar is not given further detail. Will Australia Post operators be granted approval to transport these goods? Would the approval be given for a period of time, or on a case-by-case basis? This requires further clarification.
In addition, this limitation on transporting firearms and ammunition may inhibit current enterprise by couriers and other delivery services; and may result in more commercial transportation of firearms by private vehicles than currently occurs.
We also question the requirement for licensed firearm dealers to store ammunition inside locked containers, inside secure premises. The volume of ammunition stored by dealers during peak periods throughout the year (e.g. leading up to and during duck season) would make this completely impractical. The doubling-up of security seems redundant, since the dealers’ premises would be locked and secure. In practice, this particular storage requirement may be detrimental to licensed firearm dealers’ trade.