SSAA calls for mature debate on firearms

There is no simple answer when it comes to public safety. During the past six months, more than one million licensed firearm owners have been drawn in by selective, sensationalist media reports and certain politicians who think further restrictions will somehow be a quick fix to address public safety concerns. The theory goes that penalising the licensed firearm owner will somehow stop outlaw bikie groups and drug dealers attacking each other, or prevent the actions of bitter and extreme religious-driven terrorists.

Even the conservative side of government and public servants responded to the 2014 terrorist attack in Sydney’s Martin Place by suggesting the fast-tracking of a national firearm registry integration system, even though the firearm used in the incident would never have been on the system.

So, along with the blame falling on the licensed owner, we see the continual dissipation of personal responsibility. We, as a society, cannot expect the police and laws to prevent us from any or all mischief. In most cases, it may be the actions of a person who is well known with a systematic breakdown of checks and balances; in this case, it is to be agreed with Prime Minister Tony Abbott that our own disposition to give the benefit of the doubt should be questioned.

Port Arthur madman Martin Bryant had a long and sad history of antisocial behaviour and plain illegal activity. The man who enacted the Childers Palace Backpackers murders using only a packet of matches was well known to be criminally and mentally ill. The horrific case of the Cairns mother murdering her eight children and niece with a knife was also known to authorities. Terrorist Man Haron Monis was well known to both the media and police authorities, was out on bail and, to our knowledge, was under no apparent surveillance.

There have been and always will be people who want to cause harm, with often the most dangerous tool in their arsenal being xenophobic, religious hatred or a sense of trying to show the world that they are someone demonstrating their own importance.

Unlike America where the Second Amendment gives their citizens the right to bear arms, Australians don’t have such rights. In a Western democratic system, however, we do have the freedom to own and use firearms. We also have to prove that we are a fit and proper person for that freedom.

For the licensed law-abiding firearm owner, our firearms licence represents a good check of character and that we are a fit and proper person who can be trusted by society.

We use our firearms for sporting or food-gathering purposes, whether it’s competing at the shooting range or hunting for the table to the benefit of the environment, as well as removing foxes, feral cats, goats and pigs, and other introduced species. Hunting is Australia’s oldest and safest outdoor recreational activity.

Those against licensed firearm owners like to state that all firearms used in crimes are stolen from the licensed owner. Prior to 1996, around 90 per cent of firearms were not regulated. Criminals already had firearms and still continue to possess and import new ones. The discovery of more than 140 Glocks delivered to criminals through a suburban Sydney post office in 2012 is just one example of how porous our borders are. If criminals can bring in illegal drugs and components to manufacture illicit substances here, such as the methamphetamine trade that has reached epidemic proportions, it is impossible to say we are capturing all - even most - illegal items that are coming through our borders.

Another myth perpetuated by those against private firearm ownership is that the SSAA wishes to see more firearms in society. This is simply not true. We support firearms being in the right hands under sensible regulation, not cumbersome hurdles and regulatory hoops that have little, if any, contribution to reducing crimes involving firearms.

In the past, we have worked with both the Australian Labor Party and the conservative Liberal Nationals side of politics, as well as the government authorities of Customs, the Australian Federal Police and the Attorney-General’s Department, to attempt to reinforce good policy and explain and prevent bad policy that will have negative implications. We will continue to do so to benefit our 170,000 members and all licensed firearm owners at large.

All we ask for in return is that the social, economic and environmental benefits of recreational shooting and hunting be recognised. Discriminating against hunters and sporting shooters in times of tribulation is not the Australian way. As I said earlier, we don’t have a right to firearms ownership in this nation, but I, like many others, want to live in a land of choice and freedom.

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