Why must gun owners be punished for the actions of crooks?
Letter to the Editor
Gun owners deserve much fairer deal
I READ with interest in the January 18 issue the letters by two MPs, namely Tony Perrett (LNP) and Mark Ryan (ALP), regarding gun laws concerning law-abiding firearm owners in Queensland.
Mr Ryan stated that "John Howard's gun laws are sensible and balanced and we won't stand for any watering down”.
While Mr Perrett was advocating for less red tape for law-abiding citizens who have been cleared to own firearms, and claimed Mr Ryan's comments were "chest-beating and manufacturing an agenda”.
The language on both sides was fairly emotional and short on facts.
So just how sensible and balanced are the present gun laws?
Firstly, let me say that there are many good things in these laws.
For instance, guns should always be stored safely, away from the hands of children and thieves; gun owners should all be vetted by the police and licensed for the guns for which they have a valid need, and a 28-day waiting period for a gun licence is prudent in an age of prevalent domestic violence.
However, the issue then becomes clouded when other aspects of the laws are considered.
The major contention among gun owners that I have spoken to is that it appears they are being punished for the actions of criminal elements.
Since the laws were changed in 1996 to only allow "fit and proper persons” to have a gun licence, those with a history of violence, crime, or serious mental health problems are automatically excluded.
Gun owners have been vetted by the police and are considered to be good citizens.
However, most of the efforts to curb gun violence seem to be aimed at policing law-abiding gun owners rather than those who use illegal weapons for criminal purposes.
Even when a criminal using a gun is arrested, the punishment for their crime is often far less than a lawful gun owner's punishment for a minor infraction of requirements which are not even in the Firearm Act.
For example, sometime in 2013 I saw on a WIN News broadcast, the report of a man in Brisbane who held up a store with a semi-automatic pistol he was not licensed to own.
He received a three-month suspended sentence.
However, if a law-abiding gun owner parked across the street from a gun shop, and carried their weapon across the street without putting it into a gun bag, then they could be charged if someone saw them and rang the police.
They would most likely lose their licence for five years, and thus their right to use their legally owned guns for that time, and possibly be fined as well.
Another example is that the law doesn't discriminate between the theft of guns and any other goods. So, someone who steals a gun receives the same punishment as someone who steals a TV.
A statement often heard is that the majority of illegal weapons are stolen from licensed gun owners.
However, recent police figures for theft of firearms in Queensland show that only 0.09 per cent of all legal firearms were stolen in 2016.
That is one nine-hundredth of one per cent!
Not much of a pool for all the criminals out there. The report of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee: "Ability of Australian law enforcement authorities to eliminate gun-related violence in the community” concluded after much evidence from experts that this statement is wrong.
1.154 Notwithstanding that difficulty, the evidence provided by witnesses, including law enforcement agencies, confirmed that most guns used in the commission of crime do not originate from licensed firearm owners (page 139).
1.159 The hypothesis that illegal guns are mainly stolen from registered gun owners was not supported by the evidence presented to the committee (page 140).
1.168 ...there are very few firearms that have been stolen and subsequently used in illegal acts or established as coming from a pathway from a registered firearm owner, through theft, into a recorded crime (page 142).
Many people claim that John Howard's gun laws have caused a drastic decrease in gun-related homicides, and so, should be maintained as is.
Yet figures from the Australian Institute of Criminology's latest report from their National Homicide Monitoring Program show that deaths which involved firearms were already decreasing before the 1996 gun laws.
You can't claim that measures which came after a trend started subsequently caused that trend to occur.
Samara McPhedron, a senior research fellow of the Violence Research and Prevention Program at Griffith University, stated that regulating who has access to firearms is more important than regulating what kind of firearms are available.
Commenting on the drop in firearm homicides, she concluded that several factors are involved.
These are mainly, barring unfit persons from gaining a firearm licence, and better awareness of, and treatment for, mental health issues.
Another major issue appears to be financial stress, as nine out of the 13 mass shootings between 1964 and 2014 happened during a time of recession. Namely, between 1987 to 1996.
The previously referenced report of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee made several recommendations.
One of which was: 1.225 The majority of senators attending the inquiry recommend state and territory governments investigate avenues to deregulate the firearm industry to ease the economic burden on governments, industry and legal firearm users (page 150).
Considering all of this, Mr Perrett's claim that the bureaucratic burden on legally licensed gun owners should be eased are not necessarily the danger to the public that Mr Ryan claimed them to be.
There is room for a fairer deal for all, especially when the cost of over-regulating law-abiding citizens could be used to stop the illegal importation of weapons into Australia.
However, in the light of the LNP's past history regarding the gun laws brought in on its watch, Mr Ryan does make a valid point when he asks, "What changes do the LNP want to make exactly?”