Police in Western Australia have been told they cannot deny a man a permit for a .338 Lapua Magnum rifle, a calibre the force took it upon themselves to effectively ban despite a lack of legislation.
Two recent tribunal cases – both involving precision-shooting expert and Shootingnews.com.au contributor Glen Roberts – have paved the way for more shooters to get access to the long-range rifles that take advantage of the excellent .338LM.
But they do not set a precedent that opens the doors for everyone.
The police commissioners of WA and SA, in a move typical of the paranoia and fear that Australia’s leaders so frequently exhibit, decided that calibres like .338LM were too powerful and dangerous for us to be trusted with. After all, they’re military sniper guns, designed for nothing but taking people out, aren’t they?
Yeah, just like the venerable .303 Lee Enfield, which was once banned from civilian possession for the same basic reason.
The case that unlocked the doors ruled against the applicant in the final judgment, but in the process the State Administrative Tribunal found that police had no right to arbitrarily knock back all .338LM applications without legislative back-up. That back-up doesn’t exist.
The second case ruled that the applicant could justify the use of a .338LM. He was shooting feral camels on a very large property with written permission. His equipment was top-notch, including a rangefinder, and he demonstrated not only that he could use it effectively but that the situation required shooting at distances in excess of 300 metres.
The police argued that lesser cartridges would do the job.
Glen was able to show that lesser ones would not be as effective, humane or suitable for the job of bringing down large animals that were highly mobile over long distances. All sorts of issues came into it: terminal performance of the bullet, accuracy, even barrel life compared with other cartridges.
Barrister Paul Marsh argued that just because the police claimed there were other cartridges that could be justified, it didn’t mean the .338LM couldn’t be justified. Like a bag of golf clubs, there are different calibres for different shots and you always select the one best suited to the shot you’re taking.
The tribunal was persuaded and the police now have to approve the applicant’s licence.
The trouble is, the police can shrug it off and continue to knock back every future .338LM application. The tribunal didn’t say they have to approve them all, just this one. And unless people are prepared to go to the tribunal and appeal those knock-backs every time (the police know most shooters won’t), it’ll be back to business as usual in the paranoia state, where the police department’s firearms section is generally regarded as anti-gun and anti-shooter.
I can find no examples of so-called high-powered sniper rifles being used against civilians, whether they be assassination targets or victims of madmen. The rifles that do this kind of shooting are expensive, hard to carry around, slow to load and very difficult to master. They pose no danger to society beyond, perhaps, scaring senior police who’ve seen too many action movies.
To law-abiding shooters, these firearms pose a technical and personal challenge to be mastered. For people controlling feral camels, they may well prove to be one of the most efficient methods to employ.
Police should have to show sufficient reason to deny applications for licences. The whims of a commissioner, who is ultimately nothing more than a servant of the public, should never count for one of them.