Focus on illegal guns

The following Opinion piece was submitted to the Sydney Morning Herald for their consideration. After speaking with the SMH, they said they could only run the article if we agreed to wholesale changes. These changes included adding entirely new paragraphs of text, making several tired puns (such as "shoot from the hip") and, possibly worse of all, changing the word firearm to "weapons".

Earlier in the week the same paper had run several articles and opinion pieces involving anti-firearm campaigners.

Decide for yourself.

Focus on the illegal guns !!

"There's only one way to get real gun control: Disarm the thugs and the criminals, lock them up and if you don't actually throw away the key, at least lose it for a long time." – Former US President Ronald Reagan.

The issue of gun control is a topical one at the moment. Recent tragic events in the United States have caused many Australians to look at our own firearm laws.

And much has been made of a recent study showing that Australia has the same number of firearms today as we had in 1996 - before the horrific Port Arthur massacre. But an important point is being overlooked in these discussions.

Each of those firearms is a legal firearm. It is owned by a licensed, law abiding, firearm owner who has met and complied with some of the strictest gun laws anywhere in the World.

As I speak with non-shooters I often hear that Australia is developing some kind of American gun culture. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that here in NSW we have very strict laws which govern our sport. A person who wishes to legally purchase a firearm has to first show a genuine reason such as target shooting, hunting or collecting to obtain their firearms licence. They are also required to complete a theory and practical based firearm safety test and undergo an extensive police background check. They must also prove to Police that they have the facilities to store a firearm safely, and agree to regular police inspections of their safe storage.

The checklist for people wishing to purchase a handgun is even more rigorous with a six month probationary period where an applicant is required to attend regular practice shoots while under the strict supervision of Club officials.

Applying for a firearm in NSW is a lengthy process which can easily extend past twelve months.

What we need to focus on is illegal firearms.

The law makers that we entrust with these important decisions should be guided by one key question in relation to firearms.

Will this law stop criminals from obtaining illegal firearms?

Unfortunately, the answer is too often – no.

Just last year we learned that more than 200 illegal firearms had been sent through a suburban Australia Post office. In recent weeks we have all been shocked to learn about a small group of criminals working in Customs and Border Protection – our front line of defence against the very illegal firearms that we are seeing used in crime after crime after crime.

And earlier this week a senior NSW Police officer acknowledged that the illegal import of firearms was a major challenge for law enforcement.

SSAA NSW represents more than 44,000 members throughout the State who are subject to some of the strictest firearms laws in the World. We have athletes who have represented Australia at the highest level of international competition and juniors who hope to one day reach those lofty heights.

But every time they hear of a new shooting incident, they are left worrying what new laws the Government of the day will come up with to attack their sport.

As a member of the NSW Government’s Firearms Consultative Committee, SSAA NSW want to work with the Government on sensible and effective firearms laws.

But we must focus on the criminals with illegal firearms. We must make it harder for them to get their hands on illegal firearms. And when people are caught with illegal guns, we must make sure the punishment fits the crime.

Because no one wants illegal firearms off the street more than licensed, law abiding firearm owners.

Diana Melham

Executive Director

Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (NSW)


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