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17 Jan 2017

The AMA has urged tighter restrictions on gun ownership and use, including the establishment of a national firearms register, in the face of attempts to water down and circumvent Australia’s landmark gun control laws.

Following a concerted campaign by gun enthusiasts to overturn a ban on the importation of the Adler lever-action shotgun, the AMA has called for tighter controls and monitoring of who can own a gun in order to reduce gun deaths and improve public safety.

Launching the AMA Position Statement on Firearms 2017, AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said there was a legitimate role for guns in farming, sport, policing and the military, but access to firearms should be tightly controlled to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by shootings.

Since the introduction of the National Firearms Agreement in 1996 the number of gun deaths has halved, but hundreds are still fatally shot or badly injured each year. In 2014 alone, 253 people died from gunshot wounds, including 185 people who committed suicide.

Dr Gannon said the AMA did not want to take guns from responsible owners such as farmers and registered sporting shooters, but tighter controls were needed.

“We know that too many suicides, too many homicides, too many accidents happen because guns fall into the wrong hands,” he told Sky News. “We know that people act impulsively. If they’ve got a lethal weapon at their fingertips it’s far more likely they’ll harm themselves or someone else, sometimes a loved one.”

Under current laws, gun buyers must provide a ‘genuine reason’ for their purchase, but the AMA said the requirement was open to misuse and needed to be tightened.

It recommended that owning or carrying a firearm for the express purpose of self-defence should be banned and that only registered gun club members should be allowed to possess handguns.

In addition, the AMA said gun licenses should be refused for people subject to a current restraining order, or who have been convicted of an indictable offence involving violence or firearms in the previous five years.

Despite restrictions under the National Firearms Agreement, gun ownership remains relatively common. In 2012 there were 730,000 licensed owners and 2.75 million registered firearms in Australia, putting the national gun ownership rate at 3.32 per cent.

The number of illegal guns in the community may be even higher. More than 1.2 million firearms were surrendered in gun amnesties between 1988 and 2015, and estimates put the number of unlawfully held guns as high as six million.

Dr Gannon said such uncertainty made the AMA’s call for all guns to be registered on a national database all the more urgent.

Proposals for a national registration system were first raised following the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, but were yet to be realised.

“Something that was called for at that time was a national register so that the State and Territory-based computer systems can talk to each other, so that we know exactly, where possible, where every firearm in the country is,” Dr Gannon said. “This is 20 years overdue. It’s time for the State and Territory governments to get their act together so that we can make sure, wherever possible, that lethal weapons aren’t in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

In its Position Statement, the AMA has recommended the development of a real-time, readily accessible National Firearms Licensing Register that would incorporate all the information on firearms held by each State and Territory government.

In a promising sign for interstate co-operation on firearm control, Federal, State and Territory leaders meeting at the Council of Australian Governments late last year agreed to classify the lever-action Adler 110 shotgun as a category D weapon, putting it out of the reach of most gun owners.

The COAG decision has been regarded as a victory for gun control advocates, and was commended by Dr Gannon.

“The AMA supports a strengthening of current laws banning high-powered semi-automatic weapons and pump or lever action rifles, so that they cannot be circumvented by new or adapted models,” the AMA President said. “We strongly oppose any campaigns or policies that seek to dilute or relax the restrictions on firearm purchase and ownership, such as winding back the mandatory ‘cooling off’ period between applying for and buying a gun.”

The AMA Position Statement on Firearms 2017 can be viewed at: https://ama.com.au/position-statement/firearms-2017

Adrian Rollins


Published: 17 Jan 2017