SSAA responds to doctors group’s ill-advised foray into firearms

Misguided calls from a health lobby group to tighten already onerous restrictions on firearms ownership have been blasted by the nation’s peak body representing sporting shooters. With many key policy recommendations already law, the statement shows just how misinformed and unqualified this group is in understanding firearms policy.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) released its Firearms – 2017 statement during the quiet New Years news cycle, citing data primarily sourced from notorious anti-gun writer, Philip Alpers. In the manifesto – the first version since its 1996 document – the group calls for a “reduction in firearms in the community” based on their view that “possession of firearms in the community represents a public health issue”.

This off-target claim that an increased number of firearms somehow equates to more crime and violence is an insult to the nation’s one million law-abiding firearms owners, who use firearms as a legitimate tool for sporting, hunting or pest control purposes. Furthermore, and most importantly, it is not supported by any evidence.

The AMA’s insinuation that it is somehow possible for there to be an “impulsive purchase and use of guns” is also incorrect. As law-abiding firearms owners know, the process to obtain and retain a firearms licence, not to mention purchase a firearm, involves a series of hoop-jumping and lengthy procedures. These include being vetted as a fit and proper person by police and adhering to strict storage requirements.

Further concerns about increased suicides due to firearms availability are baseless. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that if someone wants to commit suicide, they will find a way. In fact, the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that firearms as a self-harm method has remained steady since the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), accounting for 5.8 per cent of total suicides in 2015 (177 people), with hanging, poisoning and ‘other’ methods the more common means by far (85 per cent of deaths).

The AMA’s ineptness morphed into political grandstanding as it endorsed the recategoristion of lever-action shotguns agreed to at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting last year. The group’s president, Michael Gannon, even called for “a strengthening of current laws banning high-powered semi-automatic weapons and pump or lever action rifles, so that they cannot be circumvented by new or adapted models.” Unfortunately, this stance demonstrates just how lacking in evidence and poorly researched their latest policy is, with lever-action shotguns not new technology.

The national media jumped on the AMA’s calls for a “readily accessible National Firearms Licensing Register” that “incorporates State and Territory information for all types of firearms and other lethal weapons”. Although masquerading as a new idea, as Nationals Senator Fiona Nash rightly pointed out, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) is already working towards syncing the current registries and giving police real time access to the firearms databases.

Finally, the AMA’s comments that “inconsistency in State and Territory legislation... remains a major health concern” demonstrates a further lack of understanding about firearms policy. The federalist system of our nation recognises that the State and Territory governments are best placed for making sure the laws and regulations suit the circumstances and culture of each jurisdiction. Firearms laws are no exception.

Ultimately, the role of our medical professionals to focus on our healthcare system and ensure patients receive the best care possible has fallen by the wayside in this case. Their foray into firearms policy is ill-advised and unwelcome. The SSAA applauds the commonsense response from Senator Nash, along with independent MP Bob Katter and Senator David Leyonhjelm, who have publically rejected the AMA’s policy proposals.

SSAA National President Geoff Jones also took to the airwaves to respond to the AMA, making it clear that the SSAA remains the experts on real-world firearms policy. We will continue to protect and promote firearms owners’ interests to all levels of government, as we have done since 1948.

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