The Australian Federal Police (AFP) Association, which represents more than 4000 federal officers across the country, has called for a national firearms registry as a step towards reducing gun crime. But hang on, don’t we already have national firearms registration, a central element of the 1996 National Firearms Agreement and progressively rolled out across the nation?
Yes we do, with each state and territory maintaining its own records of firearms and firearms licence holders. But this isn’t a very effective national system and the AFP Association and its president Angela Smith make a valid point in highlighting its shortcomings.
“It’s a national disgrace that in the 22 years since the Port Arthur tragedy and all the good work that was done at that time to uncover illegal firearms, we still don't have a national register,” Ms Smith said. “Each state and territory has its own register and the sharing of information is clunky and problematic.”
However, the AFP Association is on less firm ground in claiming a national registry would actually do anything worthwhile about illegal guns, though it would certainly cost a lot of money, employ more public servants and likely add to the inconvenience of licensed shooters.
Quite how this would work the AFP Association doesn’t say. At the highest, the Commonwealth would have to take over the firearms law responsibilities of each state and territory which would likely require a constitutional amendment. At the lower end, and more likely in the long run, are better computer interfaces to improve access to the different registries.
Ms Smith said if we can stop people gaining access to illegal guns it would make it harder for them to carry out drive-by shootings and hold up shops, apparently a reference to a series of gun crimes in the ACT. As well as being home to the federal parliament and national institutions, the nation’s capital has recently endured a number of shootings, all apparently stemming from a long-running power struggle between outlaw motorcycle gangs.
Since bikies have routinely demonstrated a worrying ability to acquire guns without the bother of licensing and registration, it’s unclear how a national registration system, above and beyond existing state and territory registries, would in any way further hinder their activities.
And the AFP Association isn’t alone in pointing out the absence of an effective national firearms registration system. The Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia, the firearms industry representative body, called on state and territory governments to commit to the introduction of a national firearms interface which was now more than 20 years overdue. That would allow cradle to grave tracking of firearms across jurisdictions, the Foundation said.
The AFP Association has some other ideas about tackling gun crime. It would like to see federal legislation copy provisions of NSW firearms laws which specify a person can only buy ammunition suitable for firearms he or she actually owns. Putting this provision into federal law would achieve precisely nothing, as to achieve the desired effect it would have to be adopted by each state and territory.
And the AFP’s national registry proposal attracted some scathing comments on the Canberra community website RiotACT. “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard of late. We already have state firearms registries. How is adding another layer of bureaucracy to law-abiding firearms owners going to take firearms out of the hands of law-breaking criminals,” said one commentator.
Just prior to the federal election the AFP Association made a number of pitches to the various parties, calling for restoration of AFP numbers back to 2013-14 levels and demanding the AFP be a standalone agency, separate from the Department of Home Affairs. To tackle bikie crime in the ACT it called for the ACT government to adopt the type of anti-consorting legislation which has proved effective in other jurisdictions.