SSAA WA wins handgun amendments

More often than not, when we turn on the evening news, we are bombarded with stories of sadness, destruction and despair. So, it is quite refreshing to hear something positive. This month, we are pleased to report on some good news for sporting shooters in Western Australia.

After nearly a year of lobbying by SSAA Western Australia, its President, Ron Bryant, is pleased to announce that its efforts have not been in vain. A number of proposed government amendments have been scrapped and the recommendations from the Association have been, and continue to be, adopted.

In March 2009, SSAA WA put forward its response to the Western Australian Government’s review of the Firearms Act 1973. In its submission, the Association supported the government’s efforts to improve the effectiveness of firearms regulations and streamline administrative processes, but it emphasised that there were many elements of the review that were not in line with that goal. Specifically, SSAA WA successfully opposed the following seven recommendations of the state government:

1. Government Recommendation 14 - Requalification and re-licensing every five years.
According to SSAA WA, this issue was of greatest concern to shooters in WA. “There was no compelling reason why the recommendation was required and no identified community safety benefit from it,” said Ron. Recreational hunters would be affected the most and there would have been a huge administrative burden placed on the Firearms Investigation Unit, which is already greatly understaffed. “Vast amounts of police resources would need to be diverted to this bureaucratic task, which could be better spent having police directly responding to law enforcement and community safety issues.”

2. Government Recommendation 27 - Prescription of shooting range specifications in regulations.
SSAA WA believed this recommendation was unnecessary because existing legislation gave the Commissioner the power to approve or disapprove ranges.

3. Government Recommendation 34 - Infringement penalties for late and non-renewal.
SSAA WA receives regular and frequent complaints from members who have not received licence renewals. Despite contacting the relevant authorities, members generally have difficulty obtaining a renewal within the prescribed time. The problem was understood to be related to the police computer system. Issuing infringements did not improve the problems with the computer system and merely punished firearms owners for problems beyond their control without achieving any benefit in terms of greater compliance.

4. Government Recommendation 7 - Retain the requirement for a temporary permit for interstate visitors.
SSAA WA stated that all other states recognise interstate licences. Modern transport allows more and more shooters to hunt interstate, as guests of other hunters or through their associations. Although an interstate target competitor is able to obtain a permit, the process as applied to hunters was prohibitively restrictive.
Modern communications systems also mean that the details of interstate hunters coming into Western Australia on temporary permits can be easily established and tracked, and there was not a valid reason why Western Australia could not be part of the national system of recognition.
Western Australia was the only state not to recognise interstate licences and application of this recommendation would have defeated the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) intention of achieving harmonised national firearms regulation.

5. Government Recommendation 19 - Bans on magazines with greater than 10-round capacity.
SSAA WA did not support the recommendation in relation to Category A and B firearms, as a number of these firearms legitimately utilise such magazines. There are a number of .22-calibre repeaters and several centrefire rifles that employ or can be fitted with aftermarket detachable magazines with a greater than 10-round capacity. These are most typically used by those engaged in pest control where there is a need for multiple shots, such as for shooting rabbits. There did not appear to be any reason why this should be prohibited.

6. Government Recommendation 3 - A legislative ban on handguns for pastoralists.
SSAA WA believes that it is entirely appropriate to issue handgun licences when there is a sound occupational reason. This is particularly the case in a number of on-farm situations where there is a very good chance of requiring a firearm to defend against feral animals or humanely destroy stock, and where carrying a rifle (such as on horseback or on a motorcycle) is either unsafe or impractical. Note: As of early 2010, pastoralists in Western Australia were allowed to apply for a Category H (handgun) licence.

7. Government Recommendation 4 - Minimum number of transactions for maintenance of a dealer’s licence.
SSAA WA has pointed out that many small rural dealers have sporadic business activity in response to local demand. They may have a small number of transactions one year and many the next, but they provide a critical service, particularly in remote and regional areas. Applying an arbitrary minimum number of transactions could see these dealers closed down, with adverse impact on services for remote areas.

As a result of these changes and the lobbying efforts, SSAA WA has formed a firearm consultative working group that reports directly to the Minister for Police. The group will continue to lobby for positive changes to existing firearm legislation in Western Australia and address areas of concern for sporting shooters and hunters.

One area that is a current priority for the group is Australia Post’s application process, which, according to Ron, went into ‘meltdown’ on its implementation. Other problems include a backlog of applications, understaffing, lack of consistent staff, lack of staff training, outdated equipment and software, unresolved cases, and a lack of information sharing between the government and dealers.

While the proposed changes to the Firearms Act are definitely a ‘win’ for Western Australia’s sporting shooters, there is still much work to do. But a win is a win and good news such as this should be celebrated.

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