Bob Katter ... vows to fight for shooters' rights if his Australian Party gains a toehold in the Senate next year. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
THIRTEEN years after John Howard's historic gun reforms, a woman with a history of chronic paranoid schizophrenia walked out of the Sydney Pistol Club with one of its weapons, a .22 calibre Ruger semi-automatic pistol. Shamin Fernando, a probationary club member, used it to pump bullets into the head of her 70-year-old father, Vincent Lalin Fernando, in August 2010. He was her only target.
But gun control campaigners worry that there is nothing to stop a mass killer using a handgun from a shooting club. The Howard reforms that followed the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 outlawed semi-automatic long arms, but not handguns.
A NSW Shooters and Fishers Party amendment to the Firearms Act in 2008 allows unlicensed shooters with no police or mental health checks to join gun clubs. Section 6B remains despite campaigning by the Fernando family.
After a big drop in the number of legal pistols in NSW in 2004, their numbers have climbed back and there were more than 42,127 registered in the state last year.
''Most massacres are committed by people with no criminal record or no known history of mental illness,'' says Samantha Lee, from Gun Control Australia. ''You can't predict who will lose the plot.''
Bob Katter's Australian Party vows to fight for shooters' rights if it gains a toehold in the Senate next year. In NSW, recreational hunting for feral animals will be allowed in national parks in the new year, once the safety regime is finalised, under concessions to the Shooters and Fishers Party. Ted Baillieu's government has promised hunters a stronger voice in Victoria.
The NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge worries that the shooters' lobby is clawing back ground from Howard's legacy. He notes that the NSW Game Council, which licenses shooters, has promoted hunting in schools. ''Equating it with tennis and cricket … but these massacres don't happen with a tennis racquet or cricket bat.''
However, the federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh believes Howard's success will endure. Leigh, as an academic, published research in 2010 that found the buyback of 500,000 semi-automatic rifles and shotguns had cut firearm suicides by 74 per cent, saving 200 lives a year. Gun homicides were down 59 per cent.
''I think it's time to give a shout out to Howard and [then Nationals leader Tim] Fischer for standing up to their conservative base in 1996-97,'' Leigh says. ''We need US Republicans who are willing to do the same.''
The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, said ''nothing proposed by the NSW government weakens'' the Howard reforms.