The Hon. Liza Mary Harvey MLA, Minister for Police.
Proposed changes to firearm licensing
Recently there has been much debate regarding firearms, with a focus upon restricting licensing of lever action shotguns. Subsequent rumours about further restrictions on licensed firearm holders in Western Australia is creating uncertainty amongst licensed shooters, with a flow on effect to the firearms retail industry.
When state Police Ministers meet with the Federal Justice Minister Micheal Keenan to discuss changes to the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), doubtless the re-categorisation of lever action shotguns will be discussed. I am writing to outline the case against any further restrictions being placed upon licensed shooters in Western Australia.
In the past few months there has been much conversation about the Turkish made Adler lever action shotgun. A clever promotional campaign by the importers of the shotgun saw the Adler become the focus of significant public attention. However, it is the ill-informed response by those opposing the Adler that has dominated much of the firearm debate.
Lever action firearms, including shotguns, have been around for quite some time – indeed, many firearms that are still in use today were invented in the 1800’s. Regardless of what the Justice Minister may claim, there is no new technology in firearm design and manufacture.
- Almost all modern high powered bolt action rifles are based on the Mauser turn bolt design – invented in the 1890’s with the pinnacle design finalised in 1898.
- Almost all lever action rifles are derivatives of the Winchester and Marlin designs, both designs invented in the mid to late 1800’s.
- The Adler lever action shotgun uses a carrier system with a rotating linkage, which resembles the Savage Model 99 (first designed and built in 1899).
If technology has given modern firearm manufacture anything, it is the increased strength of the parent materials. However, given that modern ammunition (including shotgun ammunition) must be manufactured so that it may be safely fired in firearms that may be more than a century old, this renders this advancement moot.
As such, firearms similar to the Adler were available when the Port Arthur massacre took place – indeed, they were available before Federation. There is no history of criminal organisations attempting to illegally import lever action shotguns, and licensed owners of lever action shotguns are not being targeted by thieves. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that there is, or ever has been, a demand for lever action shotguns on the black market.
Lever action shotguns were not included in the National Firearms Agreement of 1996 ‘buy back’, and no restrictions have been suggested until the Adler was advertised for sale. The technical experts informing the National Firearms and Weapon Policy Working Group (NFWPWG), of whom the Justice Minister is a member, advised that there is no new or emerging technology in the Adler lever action shotgun. Yet discussion continues regarding their restriction.
Is the Adler a rapid fire firearm?
‘Rapid Fire’ is an incredibly subjective term. What one shooter will consider rapid fire will be vastly different from what the next shooter considers rapid fire. What needs to be taken into account is the rate of fire at which a shooter can fire shots accurately.
There are several different mechanisms (or ‘actions’) utilising a magazine of cartridges that firearms use to unload, load and fire a cartridge. These include;
- Bolt action
- Lever action
- Pump action
The National Firearms Agreement, agreed to by the states, implemented strict licensing of pump action and semi-automatic shotguns (and rifles), but was not as harsh on lever action and bolt action firearms – there is sound reasoning for this.
With a semi-automatic or pump action firearm the shooter is not required to remove his shooting hand from the grip or off the trigger – all the firing hand is required to do in both cases is to release and re-pull the trigger. The forward hand (off hand) is used to manipulate the action in the case of a pump action firearm.
With a bolt action or lever action firearm the trigger hand is required to manipulate the action and to discharge the firearm. The shooter must release the trigger, extract the fired cartridge with a sharp movement of the mechanism, move their firing hand in a manner to cycle the action the full length of the cartridge, feed the new cartridge into the chamber and finally place their finger back onto the trigger to fire the loaded cartridge – all with one hand. This adds considerable time when making follow-up shots. This process is similar to that required when using bolt action firearms.
Due to design, a semi-automatic firearm or pump action firearm will always be faster than a lever action firearm when used by someone with similar skill. It is appropriate to address semi-automatic and pump action firearms as ‘rapid fire’ – it is not appropriate to address either lever action or bolt action firearms as rapid fire.
Why was there such a large reaction to the Adler?
Seasoned professionals, such as those that featured on the Nioa Trading promotional video, all of whom have considerable experience with all manner of firearms, will be able to manipulate the action of a lever action firearm “quickly”. However, shooters with similar experience will be able to fire a pump or semi-automatic firearm much faster. Lever action firearms are not in the same league as pump action or semi-automatic firearms for rate-of-fire.
The marketing campaign that Nioa Trading designed around the release of the Adler shotgun was intended to demonstrate the quickness of the action. It was an advertisement that utilised dramatization to extract an emotional response from its viewers – similar to ad campaigns from other successful business.
With the release of the VU commodore utility, General Motors Holden ran an ad campaign featuring two relatable topics for the younger rural target audience – doing burnouts in powerful utes and drought. The video can be watched at the following link.
This video glorifying socially unacceptable and dangerous activities was advertised on major television stations across the country. However, it did not result in political debate concerning the restriction of sale of V8 utes to young men, even though the biggest killer of young Australians is speeding, with 80% of those deaths being young men.
Other ads, such as for the Subaru WRX STI, demonstrates the capabilities of the vehicle with an unrealistic display of professional driving which owners of such a vehicle are unlikely to attempt and which would likely result in catastrophic consequences.
When you appreciate the demographic of the target audience of the Adler campaign – a majority of whom would have never operated a pump action or semi-automatic shotgun, this ad campaign was quite clever. Were this ad campaign to have featured in Europe, where there is open licensing of semi-automatic and pump action shotguns, it would not have received with the attention it attracted in Australia. Using experienced shooters to manipulate the firearm quickly was done to impress a naïve audience and to extract an emotional response. The negative response by equally naïve members of the public calling for a ban on the Adler shotgun is similarly based on emotion. Legislation or regulation should not be based around information garnered from unrealistic advertisement campaigns that are designed to create those emotional responses.
Is the Adler a risk to public safety?
A well-established fact backed up by the relatively recent senate inquiry into the ability of law-enforcement to eliminate gun violence in the community is that violent crimes involving firearms overwhelmingly occur with unlicensed firearms. There are two arguments against the import of the Adler in this regard;
- Adler shotguns may be stolen and used by criminals to commit violent crime.
- Once stolen, these illicit firearms may make their way into the hands of terrorists and be used to commit terrorist activities.
Firearm dealers across Australia ordered in excess of 10,000 of these shotguns in the months following it’s advertisement for sale. However, this does not represent sales to recreational shooters. Many dealers, including myself, ordered extra firearms so that we can satisfy demand 18 months to two years from now. The Adler factory is only able to produce 600 – 1000 firearms a month, so being ‘on-the-list’ is essential.
By now there will be more than 10,000 Adler firearms in Australia. That is still less than 1% of the shooting population that own one and has increased the number of firearms in civilian hands in Australia by approximately 0.3%.
Based on current percentages and rates, if firearms stolen each year did not continue to decline then Adler shotguns could potentially represent 0.0015% of licensed firearms that make their way into the illegal market each year. There is virtually no added risk to public safety as a result of the Adler shotgun importation.
Firearms are stolen by thieves – so long as there is a market for unlicensed firearms in Australia thieves will attempt to illegally acquire them. Stolen firearms is not a licensing issue, it is a Policing issue.
To surmise my arguments;
- There is no new technology in firearm design for recreational firearms. As such, current firearm licensing legislation is adequate to cover all licensable firearms.
- It is impossible to manipulate the action of a lever action firearm as fast as a pump action or semi-automatic firearm. Lever action firearms should not be grouped together in legislation with pump action or semi-automatic firearms
- The promotion of the Adler firearms was intended to evoke emotional responses. Information acquired from promotional material should not be considered during discussions regarding firearm licensing.
- Lever action firearms pose no additional risk to public safety.
If these points could please be considered when discussions take place regarding any changes to firearms licensing it would be appreciated.
This letter has been sent to the Police Minister, Shadow Police Minister, the Shooter, Fishers and Farmers Party and published on Beaton Firearms’ website.
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