As our quest for the mainstream media and certain politicians to distinguish between the licensed, law-abiding shooter and the unlicensed criminal wielding an unregistered firearm continues, more disturbing court cases involving what appears to be lenient sentencing have emerged. The Australian Shooter story ‘Shockingly ‘soft’ sentences’ highlighted three court cases where penalties handed down to unlicensed firearm owners using unregistered firearms for malicious purposes appeared to be unsatisfactory. Feedback from readers ranged from outrage and disappointment, to a feeling of disenchantment with the authorities who seem to punish the licensed firearm owner harshly when compared to the criminal.
Now, more cases involving criminals with unregistered - even illegal - firearms committing foul play have come to light, along with a comparative case involving a licensed firearm owner. These cases further highlight apparent discrepancies between how we, the licensed firearm owners, are treated, compared to the real criminals.
A disturbing case in Queensland centred on a young man who admitted to carrying an unregistered Colt handgun without a licence and then producing it during a disagreement regarding a massage. The Sunshine Coast Daily and Daily Mail Australia reported that Michael John Alderson, 20, was on trial for attempted armed robbery after allegedly threatening erotic masseuse Cuc Thi Pham. Ms Pham alleged Mr Alderson, who is known to authorities, became angry at her during the massage after he questioned her about what the massage exactly entailed, before producing the gun and demanding all her money when he realised it didn’t involve everything he expected.
Ms Pham testified that she managed to escape and heard gunshots, which Mr Alderson said was an accidental shot and only hit the wall when he was leaving the room. The reports show the loaded gun was still in his pocket when he was out shopping at Sunshine Plaza and even when he went into a bank to withdraw $11,000 cash. He admitted to the court to disposing of the handgun by using an angle grinder and then throwing the pieces out of his car window on the Bruce Highway. He has since been acquitted of the charges of attempted robbery, assault and threatening to cause violence with intent to steal and is out in the community.
In another disturbing case, a Bendigo man found in possession of a range of illegal firearms - including a sawn-off shotgun, a homemade pen pistol, along with an unregistered self-loading handgun, four rifles and a sound suppressor - has been sentenced to four years’ prison, but could be freed after serving just two. The Bendigo Advertiser reported that the man, Adam John Height, 26, did not have a firearms licence and was in fact prohibited from owning firearms at the time. He was in possession of large quantities of drugs that attracted trafficking charges and he was additionally charged with driving offences after being caught reaching speeds in excess of 190kph.
It was reported that in sentencing, the judge took into account Mr Height’s apparent suffering of post-traumatic stress, paranoid delusions from years of drug abuse, an unhappy childhood and living through an aggravated burglary where he was stabbed in the back. The judge indicated that these factors would make a prison sentence more difficult for him, it was reported.
In stark contrast, a licensed firearm owner in Tasmania, whose two friends posted photos on Facebook of themselves holding his Glock pistol and three rifles, saw his prized firearms confiscated and destroyed along with a $900 fine. The Launceston Examiner reported that Andrew Ruzicka, 22, has since distanced himself from his former friends, who both had criminal convictions, and although he admitted to letting them handle his firearms, he denied allowing them to actually fire them.
It was reported that defence solicitor Rebecca Brown said Mr Ruzicka had acted under peer pressure and that “it was a serious lapse of judgment”, while the police prosecutor Konrad Plachta argued that he had breached the conditions of his Category H licence, which was for target shooting only.
While there is no excuse for irresponsible handling of firearms, the young man has paid the ultimate price by losing his firearms and his licence, while the two previous cases involving unlicensed and illegal or unregistered firearms have resulted in questionable sentences.
As the federal government continues its drive to introduce mandatory minimum sentencing for illegal firearm trafficking, the SSAA will maintain our push for the resources of authorities to be better spent targeting the illicit firearms market and criminals with the unregistered, illegal firearms. We will also continue to report on cases where the outcome does not seem to justify the alleged crime, and further defend licensed firearm owners from being used as scapegoats for gun crime.