Matho’s blog: Bureaucrats who are too big for their boots

Western Australia’s police commissioner, Karl O’Callaghan, should sit down and shut up, and remember that he is a public servant with a very skewed view of our world because he’s spent his whole career dealing with crooks.

He is not an elected representative entitled to make law, just an officer employed to enforce it.

Last week, he wrote an opinion piece in The West Australian saying we need tighter gun control because there are “disturbing trends emerging about the rate of firearms thefts” and he wants to know where all the unregistered guns are coming from.

He tries to answer his own question by rattling off various figures, including the number of WA licence holders who have more than 10 firearms, and how many burglaries succeeded in taking three or more guns.

He finishes up by pointing out that WA police can already decide not to issue extra licenses to gun owners (in WA the gun is licensed, not the owner, as such), but goes on to call for statutory limits to “remove the subjectiveness” from the process.

In other words, he doesn’t care if someone does have a real need for another gun, he just wants another catch-all law that says no.

That is lazy policing and it begs at least two questions. If 641 firearms were stolen in 198 separate incidents in WA from January 2010 to November 2011, what is so wrong with the police force that they can’t do their job and stop this? And if these gun owners were “targeted by organised gun thieves”, how did the thieves know who to target? Maybe O’Callaghan needs to look under his own bed for a bogyman.

He reminds me of Samantha Lee, of the National Coalition for Gun Control, who implied the NSW cops were on the wrong track after their successful bust of the Glock smuggling ring: “The way to stop the movement of firearms into the criminal market is to ban the importation and ownership of semi-automatic handguns,” she said.

Emerging trends

The National Firearm Theft Monitoring Program studied thefts between 2004 and 2009 and reported “patterns in firearm theft have shown considerable consistency over this time period”. That is not O’Callaghan’s “emerging trend”. It should be noted his state failed to provide various data for this study.

In the 2007/08 financial year – a 12 month period – 297 firearms were stolen in WA. There’s then a gap in the figures I have until we get to O’Callaghan’s 22-month period when 641 firearms were stolen. It’s a rise, but a tiny one, and it is not put into perspective by the increase in gun ownership over the same period. It is certainly not a ‘trend’.

The only emerging trend is the growing level of anti-gun propaganda being spun by senior police and politicians in many states, particularly WA and NSW.

There is also emerging evidence that the current push in the east and the west to limit gun ownership and ammunition purchases has been waiting for its chance for some time. NSW police commissioner Andrew Scipione said he had been waiting for them for “quite some time”.

At least he was honest enough to admit he was “the wrong person to ask” about whether there should be new laws.

“Never ask a police commissioner whether you need more laws because I’m always going to say yes,” he said.

O’Callaghan is under investigation in two Corruption and Crime Commission inquiries, including an allegation that he gave false evidence, so perhaps there is more than one reason to consider him to be the wrong person to ask.

He completed his call for statutory limits on gun ownership with an attempt to make it all sound very democratic and benevolent: “It seems to me the community ought to have some say and comfort about what is a reasonable ownership limit.”

History doesn’t paint a very good picture of community comfort under police regimes that are permitted to dictate what is good for society.

A barrister’s response

The day after The West Australian published O’Callaghan’s view, a barrister was given the chance to reply and did it as eloquently as you’d expect a barrister to do.

“Gun related crime in WA is exceptionally rare and, in comparison with national and international jurisdictions, is almost non-existent,” he said.

“It is incorrect to infer stolen firearms will definitely be used in crimes because we simply don’t know what happens to most of them.

“Change to the firearms legislation in WA is not necessary but if changes are to be made they should be based on the facts and not on ill-informed fear,” he concluded.

That’s a good comeback to O’Callaghan’s piece, which began with: “In the wake of the Port Arthur massacre…”

Death by a thousand cuts

As law-abiding shooters, we must now fight against every single new restriction they threaten us with. Our laws have hit a low and don’t need to go any further.

In fact, it’s 15 years since gun-hating PM John Howard wore his bullet-proof vest in public to instil fear of legitimate shooters, and imposed draconian new laws. That time has given us knowledge, data and experience, and now we can see how our laws can be relaxed without putting the community in danger.

New Zealand and, very recently, Canada have ditched their expensive, problematic and patently unnecessary long-gun registries. Those firearms are not part of any problem.

And despite the demonisation of semi-automatic rifles, including so-called ‘assault rifles’, there’s growing evidence from the US that they are not a problem, either. Over there, the famous AR-15 is an incredibly popular hunting firearm, so it’s not as if the sample of data is too small. But that’ll be a discussion for another day here in Australia.

We face a paranoid and confused bureaucracy that cannot differentiate between crime and firearms; that thinks we’re all CSI baddies; that fails to recognise that the gang members who shoot up their rivals’ suburban houses are as far removed from licensed target shooters and hunters as black is from white.

Every piece of legislation they bring in adds one more little knick in our rights to enjoy a legal activity without interference. They know it, too. Death by a thousand cuts is an old tactic.

O’Callaghan and his kind cannot be allowed to take part in it. Let him advise on criminal issues. Let him weed out of the bad guys. Let him ensure his force does the best it can. He has knowledge and expertise in specific areas but he has no mandate to make social policy. If he tries it, he must be sat back down and forced to shut up.


Mick Matheson




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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.