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Bills - Firearms and Weapons Legislation Amendment (Criminal Use) Bill 2020

4 March, 2020
Bills - Firearms and Weapons Legislation Amendment (Criminal Use) Bill 2020 Image

FIREARMS AND WEAPONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (CRIMINAL USE) BILL 2020

Second Reading Debate

Mr ROY BUTLER (Barwon) (12:01:53): I thank the Minister for agreeing to discuss the Firearms and Weapons Legislation Amendment (Criminal Use) Bill 2020 with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party [SFF]. Yesterday we met with some of the Minister's staff and Deputy Commissioner Hudson from the NSW Police Force. Deputy Commissioner Hudson acknowledged that the concerns we are raising are valid in that we could see perverse outcomes from this bill with law-abiding people, who are not the target of this bill, inadvertently being caught up. Everything we do with firearms should be based on public safety. That should be the underlying principle that we aim for.

The objective of these laws is sound in its intent to target the criminal manufacture of firearms, precursors and all of the things that are covered in the legislation. Firearms law should always be transparent and procedurally fair and contain the elements of natural justice. The fact that we are raising these concerns indicates that we have legitimate concerns about the wrong people being targeted through these laws. When bills are being drafted, often the intent does not translate into reality. We have many examples of law‑abiding firearms owners having their livelihood destroyed and their reputation damaged due to a suspension of their licence and seizure of firearms pending a court date. The matter is then thrown out of court because the prosecution has been overzealous or the mens rea or intent cannot be made out.

The SFF does not want criminals to have any access to firearms. The criminal use of firearms threatens public safety. The illegal use of firearms increases fear of crime, unfairly tarnishes the good name of law‑abiding firearms owners around the State and adversely affects a legal industry, legal sports and legal activities which involve some of the most law‑abiding people in our communities. Collectors—and I am one—have firearms that are hundreds of years old. Often, due to the age of these firearms, parts need to be made to keep the actions or mechanism functioning. You cannot order a part for a 200‑year‑old to 300‑year‑old cap‑and‑ball firearm. The value of these firearms is largely determined by the fact that they still operate as they were intended to. If they are non‑functional, their value is lost. I can tell members that 200‑year‑old and 300‑year‑old cap‑and‑ball firearms are not used in the commission of crime.

I will tell members about Bob, who is a retiree living in Dubbo. Bob is a prolific collector and custodian of some amazing Australian history. Bob lovingly cares for his historical arms with museum‑style care. Bob displays these very old firearms that he has taken care of at shows to share them with other people. This means the firearms are handled and actions are operated or opened to check the firearms are unloaded. If Bob had to replace a failed spring in one of these old firearms and bent a piece of spring steel to make the part, would this Parliament be happy to see Bob charged and have his licence suspended and his most prized possessions taken from him? What does that have to do with public safety?

Let's consider a farmer living 200 kilometres north of Broken Hill. He loses the front sight of his .22, a transition‑fit dovetail—which means it is squeezed in between two bits of metal and falls out from time to time. He has the skills and tools to make a replacement part. Would we want to see this farmer caught up in laws designed to capture criminal syndicates? Would we want him to drive a 14‑hour return trip to Dubbo to seek a simple repair which he has the parts and skills to do himself? Remember, even if never convicted, such a person would have his licence suspended and firearms seized. He would be denied access to the tools he needs to do his job for as long as it takes for the matter to get to court. How does that benefit public safety?

My colleague from Orange, Phil Donato, touched on the issues with precursors. Anything could be a precursor. A misinterpretation of how this should be applied and of the intent of the bill could see any law‑abiding person charged, their licence suspended and their firearms seized while awaiting court. My colleague also touched on clay shooting. I am from a family of clay target shooters. When it comes to left‑hand and right‑hand stops, sometimes the stop needs to be changed to allow a leftie to use a right‑handed gun. Depending on the size, the build, the length of the arms and the length of the neck, the length of pull needs to be adjusted. The comb needs to be adjusted depending on the type of clay target shooting, whether that is down the line, sporting or skeet. They are all different fits of gun.

The idea that people participating in a legal sport could be caught up in this legislation by their modifying or making a part is abhorrent to me. And do not say it does not happen. There are plenty of examples where law‑abiding people go to court and are never convicted but they have to go through the associated embarrassment, reputational damage, cost and inability to use firearms for the legal purpose they have been licensed for. I have no comment in regard to firearm prohibition orders. Police need the powers to be able to target criminals. Good laws should minimise perverse or unintended consequences. We have the opportunity to make sure this is the case with this bill. I conclude with remarks from Fred Kahn that he made before the American Bar Association in 1978:

I believe that one substantive regulatory principle on which we can all agree is the principle of minimizing coercion: that when the government presumes to interfere with peoples' freedom of action, it should bear a heavy burden of proof that the restriction is genuinely necessary …

In the case of criminals, yes. In the case of law‑abiding people, we need to ensure that people with no criminal intent are not perversely caught up in these laws.

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