Tough gun curbs may be hit by wall of red tape

from page 24 of The Mercury, May 1, 1996

by Michael Lester, State affairs writer

  The three political parties in the House of Assembly have agreed to tighten Tasmania's gun laws -- but the move might still take some time to achieve.
  The Government, Labor and the Greens have agreed to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons and to set up a guns registry in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre.
  However, history has shown changes to gun laws come slowly in this state and tough proposals invariably are watered down.
  Military-style semi-automatic weapons could be banned by ministerial order under the Guns Act of 1991 but the proposed registry would require new legislation.
  However, even the ministerial order banning guns such as the Chinese SKS assualt rifle and the Armalite AR-15 allegedly used in the Port Arthur murders could take months.
  The Guns Act includes a specific provision that any order by the Minister for Police to declare a particular category of weapon prohibited has to be approved by both houses of Parliament.
  This requirement, inserted at the request by some MLCs when the bill was debated, is a different mechanism from that which applies for other regulations.
  Usually both houses have a passive power to reject a regulation once it is tabled in parliament but with an order to ban a particular category of guns, they have an active power of approval.
  And they have 15 sitting days to do it which, on Tasmania's sitting timetable, could delay a ban until mid-August.
  Until now there has been a reluctance to change even this part of the law.
  Last October Tasmanian Greens leader Christine Milne sought to have the power to prohibit semi-automatic weapons taken from the Minister for Police and transferred to the Police Commissioner.
  "The availability of lethal weapons in the hands of people who might be behaving irrationally already is well known," Mrs Milne argued at the time.
  She said police knew the weapons were available in the community but they did not know where because Tasmanian law provided only for the licensing of the shooter, not the registration of the firearm.
  Mrs Milne believed that given the oppurtunity, and freed from political control, the Police Commissioner would ban military-style, semi-automatic weapons.
  The legislation was rejected by both Liberal and Labor parties on the grounds that banning a particular group of weapons would not solve the problem.
  Then police minister Frank Madill said he had advice from Police Commissioner John Johnson that he believed the amendment would achieve little because it was unlikely a police commissioner would take such action against government policy.
  At the time, Mr Johnson said there had been no incidents since the introduction of the 1991 laws which would have required a particular class of weapon to be declared a prohibited gun.
  Only Tasmania and Queensland do not have a ban on the sale of semi-automatic, military-style weapons.
  Major changes to gun legislation also will take time -- first to get national agreement on uniform gun laws then to draft the legislation, introduce it to parliament, pass it and have it proclaimed, a process that will take months.
  Gun owners are licensed in Tasmania but there is no registration of firearms.
  Last year Tasmania and Queensland resisted moves for uniform national gun laws at the Australian Police Ministers Council.
  Moves for uniform national laws started at the police ministers meeting in Hobart last July and continued at another meeting in November.
  Proposals were set to be discussed at a special gun laws meeting of police ministers in February but the meeting was deferred until July because of the state and federal elections.
  Among issues raised by the Police ministers were:
  * The need for uniform gun registration laws.
  * Controls over the resale of prohibited weapons between states and on private sales.
  * The need for tighter controls on mail-order sales.
  * Uniform standards of safety training, security and storage.
  Last year Dr Madill said establishing a gun registry would be a huge expense and would not stop criminals having access to guns or stop the illegal use of guns.
  Tasmania first moved to introduce new gun laws after Melbourne's Hoddle St massacre in August, 1987, and the city's Queen St slayings of December that year.
  In 1988, State Parliament passed legislation which tightened controls and introduced tougher penalties for gun-related offences.
  These laws were considered inadequate by the Field Labor government, which passed new laws in 1991.
  The 1991 laws, not proclaimed until 1993 because of delays to allow about 60,000 people to obtain gun licenses, required all gun-owners and dealers to be licensed.
  As well, the laws:
  * Banned fully automatic weapons.
  * Required photo-licences to be updated every 10 years.
  * Included a 21-day cooling-off period for the issue of licences.
  * Required applicants after January 1, 1994 to sit written gun safety tests and do gun-safety training courses.
  * Allowed the minister to ban any category of self-loading centre fire rifles -- a power not yet used.
  * Made it illegal to sell guns to anyone without a licence.
  * Required police to refuse to issue a licence to anyone they considered not qualified, not a fit and proper person or who has been convicted of a crime of violence.
  Police must also take into account a person's mental and physical condition.
  The legislation also penalties of up to $5000 for breaches of gun laws or two years' jail for such offences as illegaly selling guns to people without licences.
  But, while the laws were tougher than previous gun controls, there were concerns they did not go far enough.
  In an article on the laws, titled Shooting Tasmanians, published in the Alternative Law Journal, University of Tasmania law lecturer Kate Warner questioned the effectiveness of the 1991 laws.
  She said they did not measure up to the recommendations of the National Committee on Violence in that they did not totally prohibit fully automatic weapons but only restricted them to special permit holders.

  How To Get A Gun
o Apply to the Commissioner of Police for a gun licence.
o Police ascertain whether you are a fit and proper person, whether you have been involved in criminal activity or convicted for any crime or violence.
o Attend a gun safety training course and pass a written gun handling and knowledge test.
o Wait a minimum 21-day cooling off period for the licence.
o Produce photo-gun licence to buy gun and ammunition.

[image: "Greens leader Christine Milne: sought to have the power to ban semi-automatic weapons transferred from the Police Minister to the Police Commissioner." (9x13) ]

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