Firearms registries restrict only innocent, law-abiding licence holders and do nothing for preventing or solving crime, according to shooters. It’s time for a re-think of the system.
Criminal incompetence: police & firearms
By Justin Luke*
Once again, we see media such as SBS dancing in the blood of crime victims and re-traumatising their families.
And the bullet-proof vest man, ex-PM John Howard, is being trotted out for media appearances like a leftover from a ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’. Mr Howard boasted recently on US TV that his 1996 gun laws should be copied by the US because they were successful. Just days later, on Australian TV, he said his 1996 laws were not strict enough and there should be more gun restriction laws in Australia.
Unfortunately, laws in Australia are being based on media-generated bigotry rather than carefully analysed evidence.
On SBS, one person was forced again to re-live the horror of losing family members at Port Arthur, with the point of the story being: “we need more laws to keep us safe from people who don’t obey laws”. Why anyone would think that criminals would magically obey more gun laws, when they haven’t and won’t obey the existing laws, is a good question.
Victorian Police are asking for new laws to target criminals who use firearms (a move supported by Law Abiding Firearm Owners – LAFOs – and the Shooters, Fishers, Farmers Party – who already have a bill in the NSW parliament to do this). But VicPol also blames LAFOs for allowing their firearms to be stolen. That’s as crude as charging the owner of a stolen car if it was used in a ram-raid (particularly if the police themselves are actively facilitating thefts from LAFOs – see later).
Instead of treating 1,000,000 of the most law abiding, trustworthy and safety-conscious Australians (who own guns) like criminals, police should look in their own backyard first. Police Commissioners need to address a number of issues to increase public safety and also to help balance the budget.
Firstly, the firearms registry concept needs scrapping. It is supposed to make it more difficult for criminals to obtain, steal and sell firearms. Mr Howard never explained exactly how the register would curtail criminals. After 20 years we can see precisely how ineffective the registry is: it has not prevented or solved a single crime. Criminals don’t register their weapons.
The registry consumes several million taxpayer dollars per year – and that needs to be multiplied by 8 because there is one for each state and territory. That’s serious money taken from our pay packets that could be spent on customs, education, mental health and drug rehabilitation efforts. These are the things that reduce crime in all areas and help the vulnerable become more productive members of society.
Instead, we find the police are dangerously uneducated and bigoted – directly risking public safety through their actions. Consider these examples:
In 2010, the details of thousands of NSW firearms owners were downloaded on to the unsecured police intranet, available to general duties police officers, civilian volunteers and anyone else with access to the police intranet. Subsequently, there was a string of targeted thefts of firearms.
In a number of cases the thieves came equipped with cutting equipment and trolleys, removing the gun safe but not stealing other valuables in the house) gave shooters grave concern that the data had leaked to criminals. This gross breach of privacy remains un-remedied, with police instead claiming “there is no evidence to show there was a breach”…as if nobody could have copy/pasted on to a flash drive, or just printed a copy and taken it home. Sheer bloody-minded arrogance.
Police like ‘turkey shoot’ laws
The police like having laws to enforce against people who won’t give them any trouble; they know everything about LAFOs and are not running any risk when out “auditing” gun storage. By contrast, catching real criminals involves detective work, police work and involves risk to their lives and safety.
Insisting on auditing people who by definition aren’t doing anything wrong is as asinine as doctors complaining about late night violence in Sydney. It’s what you signed up for – get on with your job. Being a Police officer does not make one an expert on firearms policy, just as being a doctor does not make one an expert on social policy.
In a more recent and terrifying revelation, the head of the NT’s Firearms Unit has been charged with stealing firearms and storing them at home.
The police sergeant was based at police HQ, where he was responsible for approving or denying firearms licences. He was also one of the officers who determined if a person was “fit and proper” to have a licence.
While we hope that this is an isolated case, it only underscores the grave risks facing Australians when their personal information is available to others. The only solution is to disband the registry and destroy the data – just like Canada recently did (saving themselves $20 million a year). By contrast, NZ has never required registration of long firearms. NZ Police Minister Anne Tolley correctly stated “there is no evidence to show that registering individual firearms will give greater protection to the public than the existing system”.
In fact, Australia’s experience is registering firearms increases the risk to the public.
One firearms owner had a police officer arrive for an annual inspection of his gun safe. During the conversation, the officer learned that the firearms owner had served in the Australian Defence Forces. He then made comments along the lines of “oh, you’d love to meet the guy I inspected last” – and began to name makes and models of the firearms he had just inspected – which is an unforgiveable breach of privacy.
The horrified owner now wonders if this officer, when off duty down at the pub, makes similar disclosures to anyone within earshot of who has what guns: the implications are chilling. How many other police officers and civilian employees are risking the lives of their employers (you and I) by being careless with data and privacy?
How would you feel if the CTP insurance you are forced to buy was leaked to car-rebirthing gangs who targeted your private property because they knew exactly where to go? Would you be angry if your car registration data was sold to crime gangs by employees of the registry? You should be, rightly. Same applies to firearms registries.
The following conversation was reported by a LAFO:
Him: Had a safe storage inspection the other day…
Me: Oh, safe, or firearms?
Him: Both. A young copper. He asked me if they were safe when I handed the rifles to him.
Me: He didn’t check them himself?
Him: Didn’t know how to, said he didn’t know anything about guns.
Me: You’re kidding.
Him: Nope. I said, well there’s no bolt in it, and you can look straight through the barrel, and the magazine is also locked away with the bolt.
Cop: So where does the bolt go?
Him: Explains what a bolt is, where it goes, what it does, etc. (This is basic firearms stuff that anyone with experience in firearms would know).
Him: Hands a double-barrel shotgun to the cop, who opens it and is horrified when two snap caps pop out
Cop: YOU HANDED ME A LOADED SHOTGUN!!!
Him: Err, no, they are “blanks” to protect the firing pin during storage (followed by a detailed explanation)
Him: So, we shuffle through the inspection and I think the young copper went away just a little more educated than when he arrived.
Sadly, the experience of being audited by police officers with no knowledge of firearms is not rare.
Another LAFO recalled going with his father in 1996 to hand in a semi-auto rifle that had been restricted. The police officer receiving the firearm aggressively asked “why do you have a silencer on it?”
Saddened even more than having to part with a treasured family heirloom, the boy’s father replied “That’s the problem with this whole buy-back: you idiots haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about”. In fact the “silencer” was a completely legal flash hider – which does absolutely nothing to reduce the noise of the firearm.
The police officer didn’t even know the difference, yet was aggressive and confrontational. There’s no shame in not knowing something, and if he had politely asked about it, I’m sure the owner would have gladly educated him. Sadly the attitude of many police towards some of the most law abiding members of the community has not improved.
If you owned shares in a listed company, you would expect that the annual financial statements were audited by a qualified auditor with relevant experience. If your business required an experienced graphic artist or machine operator, you would hire someone who could demonstrate that they understood the requirements and had some experience with the tasks required.
If you took your teenage child to a driving instructor, you would certainly hope they were a licenced driver and qualified to teach the necessary lessons. These expectations are fair and reasonable. But ignorant police are put in charge of gun registries, and are allowed to inspect weapons and storage systems where they don’t possess even the most basic knowledge to do a proper job.
Sadly, time and time again we see police calling for more laws for them to enforce, yet demonstrating no idea about the subject matter. This has to change. Either spend more taxpayer money to make sure police officers know what they are talking about, or accept that they are manifestly unqualified to enforce useless laws that do not contribute to public safety, and scrap the whole thing.
Registry savings could help reduce crime
Scrapping the firearms registries would increase public safety as there will be no data for corrupt or incompetent police to leak to criminals or steal themselves. It could save tens of millions a year in taxpayer funds, and help balance the budget. The money saved could be put towards activities that can be proven to reduce crime: shipping container inspections, organised crime squads, rehabilitation and education.
Any arguments that suggest the registry system helps stop gun crime are uneducated at best and malicious at worst. Criminals do not register their firearms. Less than 0.05% of firearms used in crime are stolen, as proven by the recent Senate Inquiry into Reducing Gun Violence. Registries are simply another ill-conceived pork barrel of funding to appease an uneducated and bigoted minority of city-dwelling NIMBYS.
Eliminating the registries would also bring Australia into line with international practice, joining countries like Canada and NZ which have low levels of gun crime.
Before people start shrieking that “we don’t want to become like the USA” – I completely agree. The vast majority of gun violence in America is committed in four cities: New York, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles. The supreme irony is that these four cities have the most strict gun laws in the USA, some even more stringent that Australia. Gun laws create gun crime – Australia and America are proof of this and Canada and New Zealand are proof that we can have lax gun laws and low gun crime.
Any other position is simply an exercise in shameful bigotry or wilful self-delusion.
Justin Luke is a firearms owner, and defender of the right to bear (legal) arms, who blogs at http://justinlukeauthor.blogspot.com.au/