Strong Gun Laws, Safer Communities

Background

The 1996 the Port Arthur massacre resulted in 35 people being killed, 23 more wounded and a community and island devastated. [1] The impact was profound, and the suffering continues for many to this day.

In the weeks following this tragedy, the Tasmanian Greens were central in the negotiating and signing of the National Firearms Agreement. [2]

The world-leading National Firearms Agreement, and state laws that followed, have been a public health and safety success.  Since 1996, there has not been a single mass shooting event in Australia. Analysis has shown the odds of this being due to chance are one in 200,000.[3]

The national and state gun laws are internationally-recognised for protecting public safety[4] – in stark contrast to other countries with a lax approach to gun regulations. The Greens have proudly and consistently defended the National Firearms Agreement and strong gun laws in Tasmania for public safety ever since.

The National Firearms Agreement

The National Firearms Agreement affirms that firearms possession and use is a privilege, not a right – and is conditional on the overriding need to ensure public safety. [5] Gun laws must always put public safety first, before convenience and outside interests.

In 2018, the Liberal and Labor parties quietly released firearms policies that would weaken, and be contrary to, the National Firearms Agreement.[6] After much public outcry, this ultimately resulted in a House of Assembly select committee to examine firearms policy.[7]

There was overwhelming support by those who presented to the 2019 Firearms Inquiry for Tasmania to adhere to the principles and resolutions of the National Firearms Agreement. [8] Tasmanians do not want any changes to gun laws that could weaken public safety.

A commitment to the National Firearms Agreement means a commitment not just to the overall principle of a ‘national firearms agreement’, but to every one of the individual resolutions within it.

The only reason a state government should ever advocate for a change to the NFA, including to make states’ firearms laws uniform, is to strengthen the agreement further to increase public safety.

Strengthening Firearms Legislation

The state Firearms Act 1996 has been weakened, and does not conform with a number of the resolutions of the NFA.[9]

Conformance with the National Firearms Agreement

 

We will review the Tasmanian Firearms Act 1996 to identify and fix non-conformities with the National Firearms Agreement.

There is real concern about the theft of firearms in the community. Theft and use of a stolen firearm and ammunition has more serious ramifications for the community than the standard possession offence. Stolen firearms can be used to commit further crimes and they increase general fear in the community.[10]

Theft of Firearms and Ammunition

 

We will review the current legislation in relation to theft and the usage of stolen firearms and ammunition, to make these offences carry appropriate penalties to deter offending.

The National Firearms Agreement resolves that only adults aged 18 years and over are eligible to have a firearms’ licence.[11] Currently, children 14 years and older can be given a “minor’s permit” to shoot a firearm. This law breaches the National Firearms Agreement.

Repeal of Minor’s Permits

 

We will amend the law to remove the capacity for a child to be granted a “minor’s permit”.

Firearms manufacturing technology is rapidly advancing. We need firearms legislation to keep pace with future developments, to protect Tasmanians where legal loopholes cannot.

Ban on 3D Printed Weapons

 

We will investigate safety-proofing existing Tasmanian legislation to explicitly ban the manufacture and possession of 3D printed weapons, until such time as a nationally-consistent agreement is reached for legislating to protect Australians from these technologies.

Improving the safety of firearm use

Firearms Services within Tasmania Police is the agency responsible for licencing firearm owners and educating them about their obligations, and for providing information to improve public awareness of firearms legislation.[12] Firearms’ owners often comment about their difficulties in understanding the details of storage and transportation of firearms and ammunition.[13]

Firearms Services Funding

 

We will increase funding to Firearms Services to ensure the agency is capable of processing firearms’ applications and renewals, and undertake safety background checks, in a comprehensive and timely manner. We will also resource Firearms Services to develop more educative material and advice for firearm owners about the detail of the law in practice.

Firearms often present an added danger in family violence situations. Access to firearms, or the threat of such, plays a role in family violence. [14] It also plays a tragic part in death by suicide.[15]

Firearm-related violence and suicide also have a devastating and widespread impact, including upon emergency and healthcare workers who deal with the aftermath of incidents. [16]

Despite this, there is no current formal assessment undertaken in Tasmania of a firearm licence applicant’s criminal, mental health, addiction, brain injury and domestic violence records. Nor is their history of prior violence or threatened violence to themselves or another person considered.[17]

There is also a lack of clarity about the duty of a medical practitioner to notify police about any concerns they have about a person who has a firearms licence, and which agency is responsible for receiving and acting upon such information.[18]

Mental Health and Criminal History

 

We will establish a formal review between Firearms Services and medical authorities to establish notification protocols if a medical practitioner is concerned about a person who has a firearms licence.

We will undertake an education campaign, including the production of information resources, to inform medical and health practitioners of their responsibilities and of the processes they need to follow to keep the community safer.

We will fix the Firearms Services licence database to make sure all potential flags for concern (example suicide, family violence, mental illness) in a licence holder can be thoroughly identified, assessed and addressed by Firearms Services and Tasmania Police.

 



[1] House of Assembly Select Committee on Firearms Legislation and Policy, Final Report, 2019.

[2] Christine Milne, Green Politics, The Companion to Tasmanian History, 2006.

[3] The University of Sydney, Gun laws stopped mass shootings in Australia, 2018.

[4] Calamur, K, Australia's Lessons on Gun Control, The Atlantic, 2017.

[5] Council of Australian Governments, National Firearms Agreement, 2017.

[6] House of Assembly Select Committee on Firearms Legislation and Policy, Final Report, 2019, pp. 7-8.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] University of Sydney, Australia slipping backwards on National Firearms Agreement, 2017.

[10] House of Assembly Select Committee on Firearms Legislation and Policy, Final Report, 2019, p. 14.

[11] Council of Australian Governments, National Firearms Agreement, 2017, p. 7.

[12] Firearms Services, FAQ, Tasmania Police, n.d.

[13] House of Assembly Select Committee on Firearms Legislation and Policy, Final Report, 2019, pp. 73-84.

[14] Ibid, p. 37.

[15] Ibid, p. 31.

[16] Ibid, p. 41.

[17] Ibid, p. 53.

[18] Ibid, p. 55.