CountryMinded does not apply a particular ideology to policy development beyond being pragmatic and developing informed positions on key issues. In this context CountryMinded is more committed to consistent and objective thinking and processes around policy.
CountryMinded is not a pro or anti firearm organisation per se. We are not a lifestyle party and our thinking around firearms policy is in the context of the intended outcomes of firearms policy and the practical implication of existing and proposed firearms policy.
CountryMinded absolutely supports the notion that ownership and use of firearms are legitimate activities and essential in our society. CountryMinded rejects the suggestion that firearms and firearm ownership are in themselves bad.
Leaving aside the obvious issues around policing and security services, there are commercial applications for firearm use particularly in rural areas with regard to feral animal control, commercial harvesting and animal welfare applications. Following this there also are a range of legitimate recreational applications involving firearms. These would include hunting and target shooting.
Recreational hunters perform an important amenity in feral animal control and often provide a commercial benefit to primary production where there is cooperation to provide legitimate access to land.
The International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup incorporates nineteen different shooting disciplines. The Summer Olympics incorporates nine events and the Winter Olympics include the biathlon which is a mixed shooting and skiing event.
These are reputable organisations highlighting the legitimacy of shooting disciplines as recreational and sporting pursuits.
In Australia and in particular in regional Australia sporting shooting clubs are an integral component of the social fabric providing an important community amenity for many decent and law abiding people.
Rural communities benefit from the related tourism benefits of people travelling to hunt as do all communities who host shooting events. The financial aspects of the firearms industry and associated pursuits on the broader economy are significant.
Nonetheless, there are legitimate concerns around the access to firearms by people engaged in criminal activities or who may otherwise pose a significant threat to themselves or others in the community.
Much of the current firearms regulation in Australia was shaped in direct response to the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996 in which 35 people were killed and 23 others wounded. The 1996-97 National Firearms Agreement saw all states and territories implement coordinated firearms regulation reform.
Key components of these reforms included major changes to both the type of firearms that can be purchased and the licencing processes which now include background checks of applicants.
Australia has not had a mass shooting since firearm regulations were amended and enacted in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre. However other gun crime remains an issue in society.
The ongoing debate about firearms regulation in America in response to soaring gun crime has created a bias in the public perception of the need for further regulation of firearms in Australia. Australia does not have the same level of gun crime as America and our existing policy is held up internationally as an example of “successful” regulation.
Unfortunately, there is a willingness to associate American mass shootings with the need for tighter gun controls in Australia. This appears to be a political agenda to win swinging political support to tightening regulations based on emotion rather than developing an objectively informed and considered firearms policy.
There are over 800 000 licensed firearm owners in Australia and approximately 3 million registered firearms. In contrast estimates suggest there could be up to 6 million illicit firearms in Australia. This highlights the problem in firearm regulation that focusses on compliance and thereby only really affects the section of the community that already follow the rules.
Firearms legislation that increases the regulatory burden on the activities of the compliant firearm owners, who statistics show are not responsible for the bulk of gun related crime, will not resolve or reduce the current rate of gun related crime.
This sentiment is highlighted in the position articulated by the Attorney General’s Department of NSW, in its recent submission to the Senate Inquiry into gun-related violence, “putting additional restrictions on the legal ownership of firearms would not necessarily reduce firearm-related crime.” CountryMinded is concerned that Regional Australia will be disproportionately affected by further tightening firearms policies in Australia.
Much of the public comment supporting increased restriction to lawful firearm ownership are poorly informed and targeting the wrong demographic in our society. Simply, gun crime is committed by people who already do not comply with the regulation and increasing the regulation around compliance is not likely to increase compliance.
There is a strong argument that excessive and increasing regulation is likely to have a perverse outcome in that currently compliant firearm users may no longer comply. This criminalisation of an otherwise responsible section of the community is not desirable in any form.
Firearms regulation targeting gun crime must shift to non-compliant gun use and illicit firearms. There is no compelling argument to increase the regulatory intervention against compliant firearm owners.
As an adjunct to the broader issue of firearms regulation, CountryMinded is concerned about rural mental health and mental health in general. Specifically we are concerned about the issue of access to firearms, particularly for people at risk of self-harm. There is evidence that ready access to firearms may be a contributor to spontaneous suicides. It is important to increase the community awareness of suicide and empower communities to provide adequate support to those at risk and potentially restrict their access to firearms on a case by case basis.
While we acknowledge that delaying the time between a decision to suicide and the ability action the decision may provide enough time for the decision to be changed, we are more inclined to proactively address the underlying causes of the suicide decision as an effective means of reducing the overall suicide rate. CountryMinded is founded on the principle of addressing the broad issues contributing to rural and regional decline, thereby significantly improve the viability and vibrancy of the regional sector and the emotional well-being of the people in those communities.
CountryMinded does not support trivialising, patronising or demeaning the significant stressors disproportionately affecting rural and regional people by suggesting blanket regulatory tightening of firearm controls to restrict access to firearms is an appropriate or particularly effective way to reduce the overall suicide rate in rural and regional communities.
CountryMinded would support policies that;
- Oppose any Commonwealth intervention that adds to regulatory burden of state and territory based regulation affecting the ownership and use of firearms.
- Establish National Working Party for Firearm Legislation to review the National Firearms Agreement, made up of representatives from firearms dealers, hunting associations, target shooting associations, primary production, commercial harvesters, police, security services and other suitably qualified persons.
- Call for the review and amendment of state and territory firearms legislation with a view to simplifying all aspects and removing impractical elements not specifically enhancing practical safety and security, especially in regards to storage and transport.
- Support law abiding firearm owners regardless of their chosen discipline or shooting interests. This will include registration renewal and extension and national harmonisation.
- Reduce licencing and registration fees for persons that can show they are using firearms predominantly for primary production, feral pest control, commercial harvesting, animal welfare or conservation purposes.
- Remove the permit to purchase requirement for all category A and B firearms. (Only licenced persons can legally purchase a firearm, such persons have already been deemed by the relevant authorities to be suitable persons to possess a firearm).
- Remove restrictions on the lawful possession, ownership and use of sound moderators for commercial harvest and pest control applications.
- Implement and/or increase mandatory penalties for firearm theft as a major source of illicit guns.
- Increase the penalties for illicit firearms offenses, especially in built up areas, as a reflection of the increased risk and threat to public safety and as a means of assigning a penalty and intent to targeted non-compliance.
- Extend current mental health support initiatives to consider access to firearms risk for individuals and provide a no penalty reporting mechanism that does not permanently affect the reputation or record of an “at risk” person.
- Encourage friends and family of people with access to firearms who may be at risk of self-harm to confidentially report their concern without fear or risk of regulatory reprisal against the person they care about.
1. Attorney-General’s Department (NSW) 2014. Submission to the Senate Inquiry: The ability of Australian law enforcement authorities to eliminate gun-related violence in the community (Submission 42). http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Legal_and_Constitutional_Affairs/Il licit_firearms.