Firearms Lawyer Simon Munslow answers your legal questions.

Shooter consultation on the NFA: a positive outcome, or ‘snake oil’?

Firstly, I stress this is an opinion piece representing my view, and not that of my editor, or of the proprietors or staff of Yaffa Media, publishers of Sporting Shooter Magazine.

I normally like to keep my articles quite light and as amusing as I can.  I apologise for this one.  It is not amusing. It is however an important matter, and I ask that you persist in reading it, as your sport may depend upon it.

Over the last week there has been an almost unanimous voice from politicians, and spokesmen on behalf of shooting groups, telling us that we have been listened to, and that we have achieved a favourable result in respect to the Adler shotgun, and that we will be consulted in a review. 

I say near unanimous because on Facebook and publically, I have noticed that the only dissenting voice in the wilderness appears to be the Hon Bob Borsak of the Shooters and Fishers Party, who has been critical of it in his Facebook postings.  The Hon Bob, was particularly concerned about the type of consultation, and the political time line, which could see the release of a reviews findings AFTER the next Federal election.

I share his concerns.

Firstly, lets put the events of the last few months or so regarding the National Firearms Agreement Review, (‘NFAR’), into perspective.

On May 14, 2015, in the Weekend Australian, the NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione made a case for revisiting the National Firearms Agreement in light of guns pouring into Australia from overseas.  He remarked that guns seized to date were ‘the tip of the iceberg’. 

He did not distinguish between regulation of sporting shooters who comply with a strict regulatory regime, and illegal importers of handguns, who do not respect the law.

I speculate that a reduction in regulation related to sporting shooters, in order to free resources to deal with criminal importation, may be a more appropriate course for government and Police to take.  Sadly, the Commissioner did not comment upon this.

The article went on to quote research attributing the fall in gun-related deaths following Port Arthur to the buy back.  However, it failed to note other research to the contrary, or to note comments made by the respected NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research head, Don Weatherburn, who is on the record as saying, ‘I would need to see more convincing evidence than there is to be able to say that gun laws have had any effect’.

A review was under way that dealt with the agreement, this was occurring behind the scenes.  Rumours of its existence were confirmed after the SSAA expressed its disappointment at this to Justice Minister Keenan, who in late July confirmed the existence of the review and promised consultation with sporting and industry groups.

We also saw the Prime Minister announcing the temporary banning of the Adler A110 lever action shotgun pending the outcome of the review.

That there was a review of the legislation under way is not at all troubling.  All legislation should be subject to periodical reviews to ensure that it is working properly.  The concern is that the review was occurring in secret to that point, and has limited terms of reference and consultation.

Extensive lobbying from shooting groups, the Shooters and Fishers Party, Senator Bridget McKenzie, a National Party Senator from Victoria, who ran herself ragged running around the country galvanizing support from interested parties, followed.

Letters also flowed from individual shooters, including yours truly, who wrote to their state and federal Members of Parliament, and state and federal Justice Ministers.

Announcements then followed that:

           i. the importation of the Adler is being allowed into the country in five shot form pending the outcome of the NFAR and

           ii. that we shall be consulted in respect to the classification of firearms. 

Personally I do not care about the Adler A110 issue. It looks to be a useful shotgun, however, it is as the Sporting Shooter editor previously described it on this website a ‘Trojan Horse’. 

I also think it is a bit of a ‘red herring’, that has distracted a lot of attention away from the real issue here – the reclassification of firearms and, what is more, a process of reclassification that could see lever action and pump action rifles and shotguns migrate to category C.

There was also an announcement made that industry and shooting groups would be consulted, and many shooting groups and politicians have hailed this as a ‘win’ for shooters.

On its face value, it appears to be, until one notes that ‘consultation’ had originally been promised anyway.  One also needs to consider that, it does not amount to us getting ‘the seat at the table’ sought by Senator McKenzie, rather, we do get a seat at a table, but it is at another table in another room.

In order to understand what has been offered, you need to understand that what is offered is not general consultation we see when public comment is called for, and when everyone gets to write in. It is consultation with industry and certain shooting groups only, and all it shall involve will be being advised, and be given an opportunity to be heard, supposedly with view to it being taken into account. 

I say supposedly, because it is all too easy for a body doing the consulting to just pay lip service to this process.

Those of you who work in the public service, or under a number of workplace agreements, will be familiar with this type of ‘B.S’ consultation, and no doubt have similar views to me about its ‘value’.

A personal view of mine, formed by observing industry consultation when I worked for the federal Government, was that a lot of damage can also be done to a cause by organisations sending ill-chosen representatives to consult officialdom.

Invariably people are selected with the best intentions, but lack the technical skills, training and experience for that type of work.  They are often over-awed by the environment in which they find themselves, and could find themselves quickly out maneuvered or manipulated by bureaucrats who often have an agenda in mind.

In short, the organisations need to understand that just because someone has been an excellent organiser and official in their sport, is no more qualification for this type of work than it would be for a spot on an Olympic shooting team.

My concerns here are serious, there is a widely held view in the public service that no Government conducts a review without having some sort of view of the outcome sought, and this affects the choice of those to perform the review and the manner of consultation. 

After all, no politician would want a review to provide an outcome that was inconsistent with his own party policy, or in the case of the current Justice Minister, find that the review has reached a conclusion that a former Prime Minister had misread the tea leaves after Port Arthur, and had gone off on an expensive frolic, wasting billions of dollars imposing a firearms regulatory regime and buy back campaigns that have been a waste of time, resources and money.

The clincher to me in concluding that this is not a good result for shooters was the announcement by the Minister for Justice that an announcement in respect to the NFAR outcomes would not be made before mid next year. 

Given the possibility that a federal election may occur before then, we could find ourselves out maneuvered. 

Having said this, we cannot ignore this process, and if any organisation wants to engage a representative, or wishes to engage a lawyer to work with them behind the scenes, I am at their service, and am prepared to significantly discount my normal fees in order to assist, because I believe our sport is at a crisis point.




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Simon Munslow