Law makers meeting in secret to tighten gun laws

Despite Federal Government claims that the National Firearms Agreement has been under review only since the Martin Place Siege this year, it has been revealed firearms regulators have been secretly meeting for many years to tighten Australia’s already strict gun ownership laws, according to a report in the Weekly Tmes.

According to the article, on June 24 a spokeswoman for the Federal Attorney-General’s Department told The Weekly Times the firearms review was “a recommendation of the Martin Place siege review” from February.

The following day, a letter to the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia from Justice Minister Michael Keenan said: “As you may be aware, the update of the technical elements of the NFA stems from a recommendation in the Martin Place Siege Joint Commonwealth-NSW review”

On the same day, a spokesman for Victorian Police Minister Wade Noonan said: “The national firearms group, which includes Victoria, is currently considering the classification of firearms as a result of the Martin Place siege.”

On July 22, a spokeswoman for the Attorney-General’s Department told The Weekly Times:“The NFA has not been reviewed since it was introduced by John Howard in 1996. The Government is responding to the Martin Place Siege Review and makes no excuses for reviewing a 20-year-old agreement.”

But records of the national Firearms and Weapons Policy Working Group reveal repeated recommendations to “update” the firearms agreement well before the Martin Place tragedy in December last year.

Weekly Times investigation has found state and federal police, Customs and other gun-involved bureaucrats have been reviewing the 1996 Nat­ional Firearms Agreement for at least the past decade.

Australian Federal Police told a Senate hearing in ­October last year the FWPWG had already “recommended a review of the agreement to update the technical elements of the NFA”.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott late last month suspended imports of the Adler lever-­action shotgun, but The Weekly Times can reveal authorities were also alarmed by the other guns, including the Akker ­triple-barrel shotgun last year.

Australian Federal Police told a Senate inquiry in October last year the FWPWG had already reviewed the firearms agreement to “update the technical elements”.

The inquiry was told of recommendations to “classify new technology”.

Field and Game Australia policy director Rod Drew said this confirmed what many shooters had long suspected.

“Bureaucrats hold these reviews behind closed doors. The politicians say there’s no ­review because I don’t believe they know,” Mr Drew said.

“I believe police see the civilian ownership of firearms as an occupational health and safety hazard for their members. I would suggest the whole review is almost done and dusted.”

Shooters and Fishers Party MP Jeff Bourman said shooters believed the firearms agreement review “had been going on for years”.

“Governments hide behind words and say there’s no review, then say they mean there’s no formal review when really the review has been going on all the time.”

“They have been looking for an excuse for a long time to take more guns off law-abiding shooters, whether it is the Sydney siege or the Adler.”

Firearms policy specialist Samara McPhedran, from Griffith University, in Queensland, said it was concerning “a small handful of bureaucrats … appear to be making sweeping decisions about the directions that firearms management should take in Australia”.

“While it is appropriate for government departments to provide advice to their minister, in this case it appears that the Attorney-General’s Dep­artment has developed its own agenda of implementing further restrictions and is seeking opportunities to promote that agenda rather than providing objective, accurate, and evidence based advice,” Dr McPhedran said.

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the Nat­ional Firearms Agreement review was expected early next year and the update would “incorporate advice from federal and state law enforcement agencies, the firearms community, community organisations and individuals to produce sensible, practical reforms”.

“We know gun technology has updated and we’re doing the work to ensure our laws aren’t outdated, but we want sensible debate for practical reforms which is what we’ll seek through our consultations during this review process,” she said.

The spokeswoman said there had not been any “broader review of firearm categories in the NFA” but there had been “preliminary discussions”.

A spokeswoman for Police Minister Wade Noonan said it was a normal function of the firearms group to “discuss all aspects of national firearms policy and regulation, including emerging issues”.

“That is their job and should not be taken to indicate a formal review,” the spokeswoman said.




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