Bikers incensed at police firearm seizures
MEMBERS from up to half a dozen motorcycle clubs may challenge the seizure of their weapons and cancellation of their firearms licences by police.
Police from the anti-bikie Echo Taskforce swooped on more than 30 properties across the state last month, seizing hundreds of guns - many of them registered - after Chief Commissioner Ken Lay decided the owners were not ''fit and proper'' persons to own the weapons.
Senior police described it as a blow against outlaw motorcycle gangs, saying the public would be horrified to discover that members of the clubs had access to registered firearms.
However, members of the Tramps and Immortals motorcycle clubs have asked the Chief Commissioner to reverse his decision, and will push ahead with a legal challenge if he does not. The Age believes members of another four clubs have also challenged the decision, but was either unable to confirm this, or the members in question did not wish to comment.
Tramps president Ronny Harding said the characterisation by police of his Wangaratta-based club as an outlaw motorcycle gang was completely wrong, and that club members had no criminal convictions beyond traffic offences.
Other motorcycle clubs whose members were targeted in the raids have also disputed their characterisation as ''outlaw motorcycle gangs''.
''[Police] showed me a notice of suspension, being that I was a member of or an associate of the Tramps outlaw motorcycle gang, which doesn't exist, never has,'' Mr Harding said.
''We're an incorporated body, we have been since the late '80s. We're the last of the old-school motorcycle clubs still going. All us guys are all from the same borough, we're all Wangaratta lads, we've been going here for 39 years.''
Mr Harding said the Tramps had donated money to various charities in Wangaratta, and had recently part-funded a new MRI machine at the local hospital.
Police confiscated a registered .22 calibre rifle from his house, which he said was used for shooting sheep and vermin on his farm. Other members of the club had shotguns and high-powered rifles taken.
''A lot of us do a bit of deer hunting. All of us up here have had high-powered licences since we were 16 or 17, and none of us have had a firearms conviction in the 30 years we've had our licences,'' he said.
''We're dumbfounded by it, we can't work it out. We've got one guy who does mobile butchering, he has now had to employ a bloke to go out and shoot cattle because he was starting to lose clients. If a cockie gets happy with the next person who's doing it, Mick's clientele is going to drop off.''
Mr Harding said the only reason he could think of that might have made police target his club was that they had long-standing friendships with members of some of Victoria's bigger clubs.
''They can't work out how come we can still have a friendship with these big clubs and not owe these big clubs anything, or have to do anything for them,'' he said.
At the time of the raids, Assistant Commissioner Steve Fontana said the clubs were targeted because they identified as ''one-percenters'', a reference to the 1 per cent patch sported by some clubs that police believe are engaged in criminal enterprises.
However, one source pointed The Age to an explanation of the 1 per cent ''lifestyle'' on the Outlaws MC website, which states: ''We may not live by the rules of society, but we do live by its laws.''
If the Chief Commissioner does not reverse his decision to cancel the bikers' firearms licences, the next step would be an appeal to the independent Firearms Appeals Committee, and then the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
A police spokeswoman would not comment further, as it was ''an ongoing legal matter''.