From the frontline - SSAA-LA attends National Policing Summit

Across Australia, the SSAA endeavours to work productively with authorities and lawmakers to promote responsible firearms use, secure storage and encourage sensible regulation. There is no doubt that the police are at the forefront of combating crime and face immense challenges daily, from countering violent extremism, responding to domestic violence and dismantling organised crime syndicates. These issues, along with gun reform, were on the agenda at the recent second annual National Policing Summit held in Sydney, which the SSAA-LA attended to hear first-hand about law enforcement issues in an ever-evolving environment.

It was clear that sophisticated organised crime groups and countering self-radicalisation in the context of mental health and violent extremism represent key challenges, with many speakers pointing to these as ongoing threats to community safety. One poignant statement from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s David Connery was solemnly accepted by attendees: “There will be a terrorist attack in Australia in the next term of government.” With limited and ever-tightening resources for law enforcement, the need for a greater focus on organised crime while adapting the business of policing by embracing new technology and greater information sharing was evident.

Midway through the Federal Election campaign, current Justice Minister Michael Keenan opened the Summit, recognising that “the security situation has become more complex” and that the threat level to police is now “probable”. He noted the astonishing $36 billion that serious and organised crime is costing our nation annually, figures released by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) which included $1.5 billion from illicit commodities, including trafficking prohibited firearms.

Minister Keenan used the Summit to announce the Coalition’s $2.6 million for the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the ACC funded by “money taken from criminals and returned to the agencies that fight crime and protect Australia.” “The AFP would receive $1.6 million in new big data capability, and the ACC would receive $1 million for technology to enable the real-time, secure transfer of intelligence between surveillance teams in the field during investigations,” said Minister Keenan. He also blasted the Labor Party for cutting the ACC’s budget by a third and encouraged police and agencies to “embrace new technologies” to tackle organised crime.

Chief Opposition Whip Chris Hayes MP spoke on behalf of the Labor Party in the absence of Shadow Justice Minister David Feeney, who was busy campaigning for his seat in the electorate of Batman. In his address, Mr Hayes supported the direction the ACC was heading in terms of upgrading databases and sharing criminal intelligence “in real time”, also saying that “disrupting and preventing crime is paramount”.

NSW Deputy Premier Troy Grant came out swinging against unlawful firearms, painting a picture of the black market while warning that “illegal weapons can be bought on the dark net” - a growing black market the SSAA-LA has exposed in recent times. He also raised 3D printed guns as “enormously dangerous” and “part of the realities of the future that we face”. “The challenge we face in New South Wales is not with legal or registered guns or legal firearms owners...less than two per cent are reflected in crime-related activity,” he said, quoting figures often reiterated by the SSAA-LA. “Our challenge is illegal guns, it’s about what we can do on the border control of that, in partnership with the federal government. We need to go after the illegal guns and put our resources and focus there, because that’s where the problem is.” He also acknowledged the importance of weighing up “civil liberties” with “community safety”, another challenge for law enforcement agencies.

NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn, who heads the police Counter-Terrorism Unit, also pointed out that “getting a gun is quite difficult” and noted a rise in “unusual rudimentary weapons”. She highlighted the falling crime rate in NSW over the past 10 to 15 years, but noted a “40 per cent increase in the amount of investigations we’re doing” along with the age group falling to between 15 and 25.

AFP Chief Operating Officer Andrew Wood described the complexities of serious and organised crime with concealment methods and trafficking routes providing challenges for policing. He described Taskforce Blaze, the first joint taskforce between China and Australia specifically targeting the international ice market, as an example of how the AFP is working across borders to stop illicit commodities from entering the country and he stressed the need for international collaboration and partnership with industry.

But it was the session on gun reform that the SSAA-LA keenly attended, featuring Gun Control Australia’s Roland Browne and Griffith University’s senior researcher Samara McPhedran. As expected, Mr Browne played on emotions following the most recent shooting in the United States, saying that “fear is a driver for change” while openly admitting debate surrounding firearms is often based on emotion.

The SSAA-LA questioned Mr Browne on the GCA’s opposition to lever-action shotguns with no evidence of their misuse in crime or mass shooting events, to which he highlighted the “public health” argument that “prevention is better than cure”. He also pointed an accusatory finger, saying if lever-actions remain a Category A firearm, that it is somehow not dissimilar from asking for access to self-loading firearms. A Northern Territory police officer also queried why the GCA was suddenly concerned about the ‘new’ Adler A110 lever-action when similar models are already readily available in Australia, to which Mr Browne conceded that they were not aware of until the Adler.

Along with essentially calling for sporting shooters and recreational hunters to be restricted from accessing lever-action shotguns based on a ‘what if’ scenario, Mr Browne took aim at handguns. “We think target shooting with a single-shot handgun is an appropriate way to compete,” he said, showing complete disregard for our less able shooters who require more than one shot to physically participate. “We believe they are a problem waiting to happen...they represent a risk in public places.”

Mr Browne also indicated an opposition to the involvement of young people in the shooting sports, saying lever-action shotguns “can be owned by anyone who wants to go hunting, including an 18-year-old with little life experience.” The SSAA-LA questions what ‘life experience’ has to do with partaking in a legitimate activity, especially when our SSAA junior shooters are taught the importance of responsible firearms safety under the supervision of seasoned shooters.

Dr McPhedran challenged Mr Browne to raise the standard of debate surrounding firearms, saying there is little evidence showing that strict regulation, prohibition and amnesties have actually worked in Australia. “What we’ve seen in Australia is actually a very poor quality of debate around firearms filled with misinformation,” she said. “Maybe the time has come that we need to grow up a bit and start having these discussions in a far more honest way than we have been.” But the notion was quickly lost on Mr Browne who took a final swipe at licensed owners, saying the gun lobby needs to stop receiving the ‘red carpet treatment’ when meeting with government ministers.

As law-abiding firearm owners, we know that law enforcement agencies have an important role to play in tackling the illicit firearms market. However, it is clear that valuable resources are wasted on over-policing licensed shooters, with the regulation of legal firearms taking up vital police hours that could be better utilised cracking down on serious and organised crime. The SSAA-LA will continue to advocate for a balanced approach and ensure that our ability to participate in our chosen recreation is not further restricted based on emotion over evidence.

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