The 1996 National Firearms Agreement implemented by former Australian prime minister John Howard is failing, according to gun control advocates. The claim follows investigations into individual state and territorial compliance with the bill.
The agreement was brought in after 35 people died in Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania, the deadliest mass shooting in Australian history. It is, however, non-binding, and a report published by Gun Control Australia shows a domino effect in which as the larger states loosen national gun laws, the smaller territories tend to follow. While some states maintain a very close adherence to the NFA, others take a far more relaxed approach.
There have also been state efforts to abolish the cumbersome NFA requirements and red tape for security checks when an existing firearm license holder attempts to acquire supplementary hunting firearms. In 2008, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party’s Firearms Amendment Bill, which advocated removal of the 28-day delay for additional firearms, passed in New South Wales with the agreement of both major parties.
The relatively easy adoption of the legislation demonstrated that local governments were open to negotiation on firearm laws. Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, and South and Western Australia all implemented removal of the 28-day waiting period shortly after.
However, a number of Australian parties are currently seeking to update an agreement signed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) last December, which introduced harsh restrictions on lever-action shotguns. Anti-gun activists fiercely opposed import of the Turkish Adler A110 shotgun, which came in 5- and 7-shot types. The latter is now banned.
The Adler A110 is a high-capacity shotgun that uses a lever action to automatically load new cartridges into the barrel. This makes it far more effective for farmers hunting wild pests.
Firearms owners condemned the ban, claiming there was no new technology involved in the Adler A110 and zero evidence of crime involving lever-action shotguns. Several states are likely to reject any further updates to the original agreement.
New South Wales Police Minister Troy Grant publicly opposed the heavy restrictions, claiming that he was “standing up for the rights of law-abiding gun owners”. He also categorically stated that there was no evidence to show lever-action shotguns were anymore dangerous than existing weapons.
Greens justice spokesperson for New South Wales claimed, on the other hand, that advances in technology now made lever-action shotguns similar to pump-action shotguns. This type of weapon is heavily restricted under the National Firearms Agreement.
Queensland MP Robbie Katter, who has promised to oppose any attempts to implement the updated agreement and banning the Adler, said:
“If it wasn’t so serious it would be laughable that you’re going to cut bloody farmers down from seven shots to five shots when you’re shooting pigs, that that’s going to make people safe in the cities.”
Gun politics have been particularly tense in Queensland following a softening of firearms laws in 2012 by the then conservative government. If the state refuses to sign up to the COAG agreement, it is likely that the National Firearms Agreement will be watered down further, causing other territories to follow suit.
Queensland Senator Leyonhjelm, a pro-gun Liberal Democrat, claimed it was doubtful that Queensland would allow the modified agreement to pass. Regarding calls to toughen gun laws for reasons of public safety, he said, “In the context of the gun laws in Australia, gun control laws and gun violence are independent variables — they are not related.”
Indeed, Australian anti-firearms activists have so far been unable to identify a consistent correlation between lawful gun ownership and gun crime. MPs like Mr. Leyonhjelm suggest the focus should be on preventing criminal use of illegal unregistered firearms.
Tucker is a foreign correspondent and media analyst for Not Liberal.