Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Australia Gun Culture (part 14): Shooters, Fishers, and Farmers Party Having an Impact

Extremely restrictive firearms laws were imposed on the Australian population in 1996, after the Port Arthur Massacre. The Australian gun culture is fighting to restore some sanity to firearm law down under. One of the clampdowns put in place in 1996, was to make ownership of .22 rimfire semi-auto rifles so restricted as to be an effective ban.

The combined firearms council of Victoria is calling for the return of their bunny guns.  From firearmscouncil.org.au:

The state’s peak political body for Victoria’s shooting organisations is calling on the state government to allow shooters to use 22 self-loading rifles after a 20 year ban.

The Combined Firearms Council of Victoria says it has written to the Premier urging him to reconsider the state’s position in light of shooters’ concerns.

Council President, Bill Paterson, said the move would be entirely reasonable, arguing 22 rifles are in reality, “bunny guns”, and bore no resemblance to military style rifles of the type which led to the ban in 1996.

“For a start the 22 rifle has significantly less firepower than what you find with larger calibres, and it has a very practical use,” he said.

“22s are used for rabbit vermin pest control and allowing the self-loading rifles back, even if limited to 10 shots, would be a great help in controlling vermin numbers without posing any public danger”

He said the ban on self-loading rifles occurred after the shootings in Port Arthur in 1996, in a state which had very few controls over firearms when other states already had effective licensing and limitations.

“The problem is the political response back in 1996 did not take any of these factors into account when it should have. The loss of the 22 self-loading rifle was at the top of shooters’ concerns in a recent survey we conducted and their return would go a long way to providing a better balance in firearm regulation”.

He said the issue of 22 self-loading firearms will remain high on the Council’s list of priorities for the 2018 Victorian State Election.
Because Australia has proportional voting system, small parties can elect members of parliament.

Australian shooters have shown an ability  to reform some of the more extreme parts of Australian gun law. A new gun amnesty was discussed for 2017. The Shooters, Fishers, and Farmers party was able to include a couple of reasonable policies.

One was that people who found themselves in possession of unregistered guns that were otherwise legal, had the option of registering the guns. Nearly everyone recognizes that as a reasonable position. Most people believe that legal gun owners should be able to register an old, otherwise legal, gun, at any time. It only brings an unregistered gun into the gun registry.

Only the extreme anti-gun people believe that it is acceptable for someone to register a new gun from a factory, but not an old gun found in an attic.

The other policy was for people to arrange for a gun store to sell a gun that had not been registered. Remember, that the only acceptable gun registration for existing guns was that one time allowance 20 years ago.  If a family member finds great-grandpa's classic double rifle worth $30,000, she should be able to sell it rather than be forced to turn it over to the police to be destroyed.

About twice as many firearms are being registered in the new amnesty as those that are being turned in for destruction.

Another far reaching regulation is that parents are not allowed to teach their children how to use guns without a permit individually issued for each child. That permit is only allowed for children 12 or over in NSW.   The limit in Queensland is 11 years.  In Western Australia, there is no age limit.

In NSW, the Shooters, Fishers, and Farmers party is advocating a reform to lower the age limit to 10 years old, to allow parents to start teaching their children gun safety at the younger age. A minor's permit would still be required for a child to handle a gun.

To people in America, this level of bureaucracy may be difficult to understand. For a parent to teach their child to handle guns in Australia, the parent is required to apply for permission from the government, for that particular child.

If the government approves, a permit will be granted for the child to handle guns under the supervision of the parent or other approved adult.  The reform being put forward in New South Wales is to allow parents, after receiving a permit, to teach 10 year old children to shoot. The current minimum age is 12. The child will not be allowed to handle guns without the parent, or other qualified adult, being present. From smh.com.au:
But Mr Donato's party would be "happy" for 10-year-olds to handle guns, and introduce shooting as an elective school subject.

"It's a healthy family activity," Mr Donato said. "It's not gender specific. Going out, spending some time with your family in the outdoors, bonding with your kids, is a fantastic opportunity.

"It's far better they learn how to use firearms appropriately in that sort of manner as opposed to watching movies and playing video games."
These sort of reforms seem obvious to American readers. They make an important point in Australia. The point is that firearms are useful objects, and the use of firearms is a positive thing for children to learn. Under the extreme 1996 gun laws, even BB guns are considered firearms. They are classed with double barreled shotguns in the law.

While shooters are a minority in Australia, they are doing what small parties do best: advocating for reasonable reforms that have solid, logical reasons. A little bit here, a little bit there, and over time, the most stupid parts of the extreme laws from 1996 are reformed. Australia has a small population for a large land mass. Firearms have enormous utility for hunting, pest control and sport shooting.

Perhaps, with time, the most basic use of firearms will be considered. That is self defense. A cornerstone of the 1996 law is that self defense with firearms is not a legitimate purpose for owning a firearm.

The delegitimization of self defense is the cornerstone of the gun control movement in England and Wales, as well as in Canada and Australia. It was a complete break with the Englishman's right to arms that existed in English common law until after WWI.

Once self defense is recognized as a legitimate purpose for owning firearms, the unstated basis of the 1996 law self-demolishes. That basis is explained in a 1984 type slogan: Less guns good, more guns bad. The anti-gun groups baldly state that they believe more people owning guns is a bad thing.

If there were one reform I would recommend Australians to push, it would be: recognize defense of self and others as a legitimate reason to own firearms.

Australia has been and is a very safe country. Australia has a crime rate similar to Vermont or New Hampshire. Most Australians fall prey to the "need" argument, as very few "need" to have a firearm for self defense at any one time. Australians have no problem with their police carrying Glock pistols. The common man is forbidden to carry, or even to own those pistols in most cases.  What the police are carrying pistols for, if not for defense of self and others? The question becomes, is the common man capable of carrying pistols responsibly?

In the United States, the answer is clear. Yes, a person with a clean record is at least as responsible as police officers. In the United States, people with carry permits commit less crimes per person, and have less accidents, than police do.

Fortunately, in the United States, self defense is enshrined in Constitutional law as a primary reason for owning weapons.

America reformed their firearms carry law so that most Americans with clean records can carry firearms for self defense. Over the next 20 years the murder rate dropped in half.

Australia tightened their firearms laws so that ownership required specific reasons, licensing, and many types of firearms were nearly legislated out of legal ownership for most people. The murder rate dropped about the same as in the United States.

New Zealand dropped their firearms registration requirement, the murder rate dropped by about half over the same 20 year period.

Canada imposed universal firearms registration over the same period, then abolished it. Their murder rate fell about the same as the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

Firearms law has little to do with crime. It has a lot to do with individual freedom, individual responsibility, and the growth of the state.

©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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