The weekend advertisement criticising the Premier run by the Shooting Industry Foundation Australia (SIFA) was plain dumb, and one particularly stupid line (Premier, rein it in before we are all sorry!) copped a well-deserved rebuke from an unimpressed McGowan.
With a thoughtless comment, a clueless peak body run out of Victoria managed, overnight, to neuter public debate around the merits of the gun store closures. Hopefully SIFA got the message to stay out of our state’s affairs and let organisations like WAFarmers respond to the government quietly and professionally, rather than with the gun lobby’s “all guns blazing” approach.
Firearms are a necessary and legitimate part of farmers’ work tools, so we need to discuss the changes to ensure that any move to close gun stores does not impact legitimate users. In a democracy, no government is immune from constructive criticism, no matter how urgent a matter they are dealing with. The key is to do it in a calm and considered way, building the case for change when the government gets it wrong or overreaches. The Premier’s gun closure announcement was part of the government’s response to the Coronavirus emergency; not, as the SIFA inferred, an attack on gun owners.
In his press release McGowan explained that “given the closure of firearm sporting clubs and shooting venues, and the need to comply with social distancing, there is effectively no need for over the counter sales at gun stores.” On the surface, this is a perfectly reasonable explanation; sports shooters don’t need new guns or ammo if their club is not able to hold meets. But it did raise the question of why bother to close gun shops when the clubs are already closed, and sporting goods stores remain open.
Clearly social distancing was not the only motivation for the closure. The Premier went on: “Whilst it is recognised that licensed firearm owners and dealers exercise high compliance, these preventative measures are being taken in the interests of community safety.” The merits of closing gun stores to improve community safety can be debated. The firearms licensing division already have the powers to refuse to accept new gun licenses, and without a recall of all the guns and ammo sitting in cabinets across the state, firearms will remain a small but real risk to the community despite the shop closures.
But we all must accept that the government can’t eliminate all risks, and a degree of common sense has to prevail even in these times of crisis. We can’t lock up every person in social isolation nor recall every gun in the state. The Premier and the Police Commissioner recognised that there are legitimate needs for some in the community to access the now closed gun stores. “Exemptions will be put in place to ensure farmers and other rural landholders can continue to access ammunition for pest control and animal welfare reasons through registered firearm dealers.” This was logical. The only problem was that at the time the press release went out, there was no register of occupations or rural land ownership linked to gun licenses. Creating one would have been an enormous amount of work for an already overstretched police force.
It also raised the question of definitions: what about the professional shooters, or indigenous land holders? Where do managers, farm workers and sharefarmers fit in? These were issues that the licensing division was madly grappling with over the weekend.
The Premier told us that “in these unprecedented times, we are taking sensible decisions and putting preventative measures in place to limit the spread of this virus and ensure the safety of the community.” No one can argue with the Premier’s sentiment, but as a community we have a right to respectfully question the logic of decisions, no matter how urgent the matter. Particularly when radical new policy—such as denying farmers access to ammunition, parts or a replacement firearm—can have unforeseen consequences potentially lasting months.
Fortunately, the Firearms Licensing Branch worked overtime on the weekend to identify and implement a workable solution. Titled Variation to Gun Shop Closure Notice, the new rules now allow landholders and farmers to seek an appointment with their firearms dealer and purchase ammunition on presentation of proof that they are linked to an agricultural entity. It might not be to sport shooters’ liking, but it is workable for the community that need firearms as part of their job.
From WAFarmers perspective it’s a good outcome for farmers and the community and reflects well on the Premier, his government, and the professionalism of the Licensing Enforcement Division.