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Do our gun control laws go far enough?

Date

A spate of shootings in Sydney has revived debate. Here, a hunter, a gun control advocate, a policeman and a mayor discuss the issue.

THE QUESTION

THE HUNTER ROBERT BORSAK

THE spate of drive-by shootings in Sydney is not the result of insufficient gun control laws, or even criminal law, in this state. It is already illegal to shoot an unregistered firearm in a built-up area without regard to human life. There are three or more charges that could arise from this act alone. The problem is that there is a minority of people who do not care what the law says. Drive-by shootings are probably the least serious of their criminal activities.

The recent exposure by police of a major global gun smuggling ring supports the Shooters and Fishers Party’s long-standing claim that most guns used in crime enter Australia illegally. The Police Minister, thankfully, is taking the matter seriously, and reportedly has called for a new joint taskforce to target this.

The current administrative controls on the hunting and shooting sports enjoyed by law-abiding citizens have little effect on those who hold and use illegal firearms.

There is no justification for increasing controls over legally-held firearms. In fact, New Zealand recognised that the registration of longarms was a waste of public money years ago, and Canada is now in the process of dismantling its longarms registry.

Administering complex gun control laws ties up valuable law and order resources that could be better used in putting career and amateur criminals behind bars – and keeping them there.

The Shooters and Fishers Party has been vocal about this issue for more than a decade.

In March of this year, I introduced a Bill to the NSW Parliament that will create an additional charge of possessing a firearm while committing certain serious offences. This may not prevent the continued operation of organised crime gangs – only continued and dogged police work can do that – but I do hope that knowing the use of a gun will result in additional prison time, will make firearms a less attractive weapon for criminals to use.

We must send a strong message to the drug peddlers, home invaders, muggers and rapists – do the crime and you will do the time, but do the crime armed with a firearm and we will throw you in prison for twice as long.

Robert Borsak, from the Shooters and Fishers Party, is a member of the NSW Legislative Council.

 

THE ADVOCATE MICHELLE FERNANDO

MY FATHER, Vincent Lalin Fernando, was shot by my mentally-ill sister with a registered,
"legal", semi-automatic pistol. The pistol was taken from a gun club authorised to provide access and training to visitors in the use of firearms.

At first glance, my father’s shooting might seem in contrast to the recent spate of shootings in our streets. This is largely due to the presumption that street gun crime is committed with guns smuggled into the country and owned illegally. While there is obviously a trade in illegal firearms, there are also lawfully owned, registered firearms that are stolen and find their way onto our streets. Guns used in a shooting are often never found, let alone identified, and we can only speculate as to where they came from.

Gun control laws were, and continue to be, inadequate. But more than that, the laws we do have are irrelevant if they are not enforced. The pistol club from which my sister took a gun obviously had inadequate systems in place when it came to managing its firearms. Yet this club was deemed suitable by the NSW Firearms Registry to conduct business with respect to deadly weapons. The licensing police officer for that local area command told me this offence, the taking of a firearm, could have happened in any club in Sydney.

The inadequacy of enforcement is not the only flaw in our system of regulation. My sister should never have been allowed near a gun. Yet in a state of extreme ill health, all that stood between her and a firearm was a questionnaire. Her answers were never checked for their veracity. It is absurd that someone can gain access to a firearm this way but that is precisely what section 6B of the Firearms Act allows.

My family has been campaigning to have this aspect of the gun control laws corrected. The fact that two successive NSW governments have failed to make this small and simple amendment demonstrates the task facing those advocating for greater gun control. One has to ask why the gun lobby, which speaks for such a small section of the community, has so much influence.

We invite anyone who believes unlicensed shooting should be banned to sign an online petition at change.org/petitions/i-want-6b-removed.

 Michelle Fernando is a criminal lawyer. Her father was shot in August 2010.

 

THE POLICEMAN SCOTT WEBER

THE number of shootings across NSW raises serious questions about gun control laws, which need to be addressed without delay.

More and more firearms are being smuggled into the country, falling into the hands of hardened criminals. Gangland disputes once solved with a punch are now ending in tit-for-tat shootouts, placing everyone in the community at risk.

We need a war on guns, with greater focus on stopping guns entering the country in the first place, and schemes in place to get the guns in circulation off the streets.

We need more police on the street to adequately deal with the serious crimes playing out on Sydney streets every day and night. And the courts need to get tough on criminals convicted of firearm offences.

There were 100 drive-by shootings in NSW last year, up 41 per cent from 2010, and 52 shooting incidents this year so far – many connected to bikie activities and organised crime. The compulsory gun buybacks of 1996 and 2003 saw more than 650,000 illegal firearms surrendered and taken out of circulation. Statistics indicate a significant reduction in gun crime in the years that followed.

Fast forward almost a decade, and these guns have been replaced, plus some. It needs a conscious and concerted effort by lawmakers and law enforcers to get these guns off our streets. That’s the first step.

While some firearms involved in crime are stolen, the real issue is the large number of firearms smuggled into Australia illegally; and the problem is worse in NSW than in other states. We need to get tough at the border.

Then there is sentencing. Possessing an illegal firearm is a serious offence, which carries a maximum 10 years in jail. Discharge that  and it’s upped to 14 years. But too often we see firearm offenders receiving pathetic sentences that has them back on the streets ready to commit more crime. This light-handed approach to sentencing is a never-ending source of frustration for police officers.

Crime rates go down when serious criminals are behind bars. Locking up those who commit firearm offences is vital to bring to an end the ongoing spate of shootings across Sydney.

Scott Weber is president of the Police Association of NSW.

 

THE MAYOR KATRINA HUMPHRIES

LOCKS keep honest people out. Signs are for honest people to obey. Rules are for honest people to follow. Gun laws are for honest people and when guns were outlawed the outlaws kept their guns.

Zero tolerance for  illegal gun dealers and users is possibly the only way to clean up this mess, along with sizeable cash rewards for information leading to arrests of persons involved in gun crimes.  Perhaps strong mandatory jail terms for the perpetrators would also be a deterrent.

Some say our jails are overcrowded now; too bad – build more, of lesser quality, so the jail experience is a punishment not a reward. Customs also needs to be tighter.

All these solutions will take a lot of money to fund, but if governments are serious then the proceeds of crime need to be quarantined to help fund these extra measures.

We also need to start properly supporting our police.  Eyewatch is a new type of community watch network that could really take off.  Imagine the benefit to a community if there were six or eight extra sets of eyes and ears in every street. It is a real option and residents can take part without being found out by their  neighbours.

It is my belief that the politically correct and the do-gooders of this country are bringing our fantastic lifestyle and happy-go-lucky nature to their  knees. 

Time is of the essence and it is only a matter of time until some poor innocent bystander, even a child, is killed in this gangland-style raiding that is happening night after night.
NSW needs to be the leader in criminal reform in Australia.  If there was ever a time for some gutsy leadership, a strong judicial system and big monetary rewards, it is now.  Lock them up and throw away the keys – there is no room in our precious world for suburban warlords and lawless communities.

Our brave police should be honoured and supported and while ever there is no respect for the law there will be no peace for law-abiding citizens. Fear should not be the burden of the honest and decent majority in our communities; it should be used as a weapon against those who wish to break the law.

Katrina Humphries is the mayor of Moree Plains Shire.

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