SSAA National President Geoff Jones and Chief Executive Officer Tim Bannister were invited to address and give evidence at the Greens-led Senate Inquiry into The ability of Australian law enforcement authorities to eliminate gun-related violence in the community on October 31. The following is a copy of Geoff’s opening address.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear at this Inquiry.
As the Committee has heard in the previous two days of hearings, it has become apparent that data and information regarding stolen firearms, their use and their origin is of a very poor quality.
Historically, the Australian Institute of Criminology and the Australian Crime Commission has been supplied unintentionally with data contaminated at best and rubbish at worst from South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria, skewing results and leading to a misunderstanding of the legal and illegal firearms landscape. Junk in, junk out, as the old saying goes.
In South Australia, for example, the figure submitted for legal handguns was inversed, leading the AIC to believe that there were 41,000 instead of 14,000 owned handguns. Western Australia at one stage provided no information on firearms or firearm theft, while Victoria inadvertently recorded firearm parts as actual stolen firearms.
Even the AIC’s senior research analyst Dr Samantha Bricknell has stated that the number of illegal firearms in the community is impossible to estimate.
As we have said in our written submission, the origin of illegal handguns according to the AIC has an unknown rate of 70 per cent. Handguns in particular we do know are the least likely to be stolen or ever used in a subsequent crime, and in the state of Victoria only six handguns were stolen last year.
Illegal longarm ownership is more likely to have come from the grey market when rifles and shotguns were not registered. However, it is important to remember that most crimes committed with a firearm are by unlicensed perpetrators with an unregistered firearm. More than 93 per cent of firearms used in homicides were unlicensed and unregistered.
The SSAA believes that illegal handgun origins stem mainly from our porous borders and in the inadequate deactivation of handguns after 2002. We warned the regulators of this now-rectified deactivation issue at the time.
In previous Senate Estimates, we have heard that Customs inspects about one per cent of all shipping cargo, while two years ago, 140 illegal Glocks were found to have been imported by a Sylvania Waters post office.
If organised crime can import the base components of drugs into Australia, then of course they can import the handguns to protect their assets.
Those against legal handgun ownership often say how easy it is to get a licence to own a handgun. In fact, quite the opposite is true. After police checks and club applications, it can take up to 18 months before one can legally own a self-loading handgun.
Handguns have been strongly regulated since World War I.
Target shooting with self-loading handguns is a legitimate activity of the SSAA and we are very proud of our achievements at the club, state, national and international level.
We have always been active in educating our members and shooters everywhere about safe storage of firearms, and in fact several years ago won a national award for our Secure Your Gun, Secure Your Sport initiative. We continue to educate our members about the importance of safe firearms storage and we believe our efforts in this space has contributed to the high compliance recorded by our members.
The SSAA believes current regulations on firearm ownership are more than adequate and in some cases overburden the law-abiding shooter and detract from police manpower and resources with no public safety benefit.
If firearm crime or even accidents are to be seen - as some academics wish - as a public health issue, then we would encourage further funding in firearm education for adults and children. Just as a child is taught not to play with matches, they should be taught, for argument’s sake by age six, that if they happen on the rarest of occasions to find a firearm, not to touch it and tell an adult.
Another point I would like to make is on the suggestion that firearm owners should be made to have monitored alarms. Firstly, this ignores the fact that stolen firearms are not the main supplier to the illegal gun trade, and secondly, this will only pose an added cost and burden on the law-abiding shooter, which we suspect is aimed at further deterring firearm ownership, rather than achieving any public safety benefit. Additionally, the suggestion that alarms are an effective mechanism in rural communities is clearly ludicrous.
The question should also be asked: How many firearms of any kind have not been stolen in a home robbery because the firearms were securely stored?
The SSAA owns its own national insurance brokerage and the manager with more than 25 years industry experience has said that he cannot recall a claim relating to firearm theft. It is thankfully a rare event and demonstrates the current storage requirements are effective.
To return to the question of the ability of law enforcement to eliminate gun-related violence, I would say that research has demonstrated firearms violence has been reducing steadily for the past 30 years. While gun buybacks cost the community close to a billion dollars, there has been no indisputable evidence that this has reduced crime with a firearm.
Legal firearms, in the right hands, are not a threat to society and it is my contention future inquiries may be better off concentrating on the real reasons behind gun violence, which is drug, gang and organised crime related.