Handguns have been tightly regulated in Australia since World War I - long before the 1996 National Firearms Agreement, subsequent National Handgun Control Agreement in 2002 and further regulations deriving from the 2006 December Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting.
The 2002 handgun-specific resolutions resulted in no fewer than 28 controls affecting the legitimate sporting shooter, while the 2006 COAG rulings restricted new handgun club members to an initial purchase of a small-calibre target pistol. Today, Australia’s keen pistol shooters still feel the tentacles of governments closing in on our long-held legally owned handguns, with everything from calibres to barrel lengths to the handguns themselves targeted - all in the name of ‘public safety’.
The SSAA is privy to a seemingly continuous flow of anecdotal stories regarding how regulations across the states negatively affect handgun shooting disciplines. Most recently, SSAA National learned that the current legislative environment has resulted in deterring international competitions and international competitors from coming to Australia for some handgun events - a startling finding for a country that just last year won two gold and two bronze medals in pistol events at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The SSAA coordinates three main disciplines for competitive handgun shooting: Action Match, Target Pistol and Handgun Metallic Silhouette. The Combined Services, Long Range Precision, Muzzleloading, Practical Shooting and Single Action, disciplines also include handgun matches, along with the SSAA-affiliated discipline of International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC). The latter of the disciplines has reported major issues with the legislation. SSAA IPSC National Discipline Coordinator Greg Moon said restrictions on calibres specifically have “effectively halted all international IPSC competitions in Australia”.
IPSC competitors can only use 9mm handguns up to .38 calibres in most states, with a rare exception allowing up to .45-calibre in Victoria. Calibres up to .45 are allowed in every other nation that shoots IPSC events. Greg pointed to the IPSC Level IV Australasian Regional Championships, which was destined for Australia in 2013, but had to relocate to New Zealand because the legislation on calibres and even magazine capacities meant international competitors could not bring a majority of their handguns into the country. “We ran a match of 700-plus competitors in Rotorua and had over 1000 people stay in the place for a week and half. The only reason we went there was because of the legislation in Australia,” he said.
“A similar problem arises when Australians go overseas. Our competitors are seriously disadvantaged, as the highest calibre we can use is the .357 SIG. Ammo for this is not readily available overseas and the cartridges are fussy.” Greg said despite the challenges, IPSC is “slowly making inroads” and governments are starting to listen.
Another Australian event affected by the legislation was the Arafura Games, a multi-sport competition that was held every two years in Darwin from 1991 until its cancellation in 2013. The games saw developing athletes of all abilities across the Asia Pacific region gather to compete in events, including clay target IPSC pistol and ISSF pistol. Competitor numbers dwindled, however, due to the restrictions placed on the pistols used.
On a grassroots level, the SSAA handgun disciplines are also feeling the ramifications of restrictive government policies. International Action Match champion and SSAA member Richard Siebert raised two issues currently affecting this fast-paced discipline: costs and magazine capacity. “Action Pistol went from a four to eight magazine requirement in the last buy-backs, which meant we had to spend $500-plus modifying our guns to meet this,” he said.
This change also affected the attractiveness of Australia for international competitors, who are allowed to have a variety of magazine capacities in their home countries. “International competitors aren’t going to spend $1000-plus on their guns to go and shoot in Australia,” Richard said. “The legislation in that sense discourages international shooters coming to Australia to compete.”
Richard also pointed to the last buy-backs in 2003, which took many entry-level pistols out of the picture. “New shooters couldn’t get a secondhand pistol because the buy-backs took all the entry-level handguns out of the system, making it cost-prohibitive,” he said.
He estimates the number of participants shooting Action Match in Australia has halved since he began competing in the mid-1990s, and the number of junior participants is worryingly low.
Another SSAA international discipline affected by current regulations is Target Pistol. This sees competitors shoot at a three-gun 3x90-shot event, with a total score out of 2700 using any .22, any centrefire and any .45 pistol. SSAA Target Pistol National Discipline Chairman Greg Riemer said that although he doesn’t attribute the current regulations to having any adverse affects on the sport, issues have certainly arisen surrounding .45-calibre pistols, mirroring the IPSC’s concerns.
“Currently, we cannot run any .45 events, as they are still restricted in most states,” said Greg. “This causes us a huge problem, in that we have to choose a national team from competition with only two of the guns, and then go overseas and shoot the three guns.” Greg said no overseas competitors have participated in the SSAA National event so far, but if they did and it was held outside of Victoria, they “would be taken aback”.
“Because you can also use the .45 in the Any Centrefire 900 match, most people spend their money on a really accurate hand-built .45, and use it for both matches,” he explained. “We won’t have a competitive National team until we can shoot all three guns in a majority of states. Victoria is luckily one of the places we can, and they have the Nationals next year, and we will be shooting a 2700 [match].” Greg’s goal is to get approval for the use of .45s in all states. “Slowly, we are making headway...If we were all allowed to have .45 wad guns for Target Pistol, we would be happy,” he said.
Handgun Metallic Silhouette shooters are also thankfully less affected, with this discipline one of only two competitions in Australia allowing calibres greater than .38. SSAA Handgun Metallic Silhouette National Discipline Chairman Russell Mowles said there “are a couple of issues with .45-calibre pistols”, but most of the pistols used in the discipline are all available. “Calibre wise, the calibres that we use are all available,” he said.
SSAA National Chief Executive Officer Tim Bannister said competitive handgun disciplines have and will remain an integral part of the SSAA. “As the Greens finish another attack on handguns with their recent Senate Inquiry - another thinly veiled attempt to ban handguns - there is no doubt that any attack on legitimate sporting shooters will remain a key priority for the SSAA,” he said.
“We will continue to publish our popular Australian & New Zealand Handgun magazine and promote the many benefits of shooting to ensure our sport is not tainted by politicians who would like to see it shut down for no greater good.
“We will also continue our tireless work with the SSAA state and territory branches and the National Discipline Chairmen to resolve the issue of higher calibre restrictions.”