In the age of fake news and the viral spread of inaccurate information on social media, the SSAA viewed dubious reports that a whopping 5000-plus firearms have been seized by dedicated police units in nearly four years with scepticism. Announced by Justice Minister Michael Keenan in March, his press release detailed how the National Anti-Gang Squad (NAGS) had “laid more than 3100 charges nationally and seized more than 5600 illegal firearms” since 2013.
The mainstream media, including News Corp, published the figures verbatim, with headlines praising the Federal Government for “shoot(ing) down bikie guns haul”. While there is no doubt that illegal firearm imports are a real threat to our porous borders, the SSAA endeavoured to find out more details before reporting this news to our members.
Following countless inquiries to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australian Border Force (ABF) and Minister Keenan’s media staff directly, it was finally revealed that the 5600 figure quoted in the Minister’s press release overwhelmingly included firearm parts and frames, not functioning firearms. What’s more, the vast majority, totalling 4785 items, were actually seized in the United States, thanks to the efforts of US-based agencies.
Repeated requests for evidence to prove that the items seized on US soil were bound for Australia were ignored. Details given by the AFP revealed that of the 4785 items, just six were actual firearms (“automatic assault rifles”), with 96 semi-automatic handgun frames, 4547 unmarked 1911 handgun frames and 136 AR-15 receivers - a far cry from the 5600 firearms claimed by the Minister and reported in the press.
In terms of Australian seizures, it was revealed that just 303 items were reportedly found here - but the list of pieces disclosed by the AFP did not include any firearms, just parts. This included an upper and lower frame for one assault rifle, 19 semi-automatic 1911 handgun frames with identical serial numbers, six 1911 semi-automatic assorted parts and 10kg of ammunition.
Disappointingly, none of the agencies, including Minister Keenan’s office, have corrected the record or made any attempt to distinguish between firearms and firearm parts. In fact, the Minister’s media staff declined to provide any details or comment at all, leaving it to the AFP to scrounge around to try and substantiate the misleading claims in the Minister’s very own press release. The SSAA will always correct the record, as we have done following inaccurate reports regarding handguns seized by the ABF and data woes with the Australian Firearms Information Network.
This is the latest in a string of errors from the Federal Justice Minister’s office and key government departments, including the lack of consultation on the National Firearms Agreement review, the various wording mistakes that they were forced to rewrite and now the issuing of a false press release sensationalising the work of our law enforcement agency.
The final twist is that the ‘successful’ NAGS, as Minister Keenan boasts in his press release, appears to be subject to funding cuts. The AFP chief operating officer Andrew Wood revealed in recent Senate Estimates hearings that funding for the NAGS will see “a reduction of $6.3 million” in 2016-17. The SSAA implores the Federal Government to reinstate this funding to ensure law enforcement is adequately equipped to deal with illicit firearms.
While the SSAA applauds our agencies for their attempts to combat the illicit firearms market, we will not hesitate to correct the record when it comes to firearm-related news. The SSAA endeavours to educate the media and politicians about firearms and our recreation through our publication A Journalist’s Guide to Firearms and the Shooting Sports. There is no place for misinformation when it comes to firearms. The SSAA will always deal in facts and evidence, not emotion or sensational claims.