Shooters are celebrating a significant victory in the push against proposed NSW legislation that has the potential to criminalise gun owners for carrying out routine repairs and maintenance to their firearms.
A legal affairs committee of the state Parliament has handed down a damning report about the proposed Firearms and Weapons Legislation Amendment (Criminal Use) Bill 2020, saying it “is poorly drafted and contains many flaws”.
Key issues in the report included the “absence of defence for innocent firearms owners” who could be charged with criminal offences for looking after legally owned firearms.
The broad reach of the proposed legislation and lack of clarity in its definitions exacerbated the problem.
The committee also pointed out that the proposed penalties were disproportionately high compared with other laws, and were inconsistent.
It mentioned a number of instances of possible police over-reach in the bill and expressed concern about the “potential negative impact on the common law right against self-incrimination and the right to silence”.
The committee said the bill “should not be passed in its current form” and made nine recommendations about changes.
The committee’s report does not mean the bill will be shelved, and there are differing opinions about whether the bill will be revised soon and come back to parliament, or whether it would be in limbo for an indefinite period.
The Shooters Farmers and Fishers Party announced it is preparing amendments it will table when the bill is brought back to parliament for further debate.
Superintendent Anthony Bell, head of the NSW Firearms Registry, said that without the legislation, there was “a clear gap” in the law that allowed criminal organisations to have the means to manufacture illegal firearms.
The committee supported the intention of the legislation, which it said is to “target serious organised crime and ensure firearms and other weapons do not end up in the wrong hands”.
Firearms groups had taken a similarly supportive view of targeting the criminal use of firearms, but they were united in their strong opposition to the bill in its current form.
“Among other things, the committee highlighted issues with an overly broad scope, lack of defence for licensed firearms users maintaining or repairing their firearms, and concerns about police over-reach in relation to powers under the proposed legislation,” said Shooters Union NSW state coordinator Craig Golding.
In a joint statement, SSAA NSW president Lance Miller and CEO Jai Rowell said, “The recommendations made to the NSW Parliament are an excellent foundation in ensuring that legal firearms owners are protected.”
As well as Shooters Union and SSAA, more than 250 groups and individuals made submissions to the committee, included the NSW Firearms Dealers Association, Firearms Owners United, the Antique Arms Collectors’ Society of Australia, the Law Society of NSW, the Liberal Democrats, NSW Farmers, and a number of hunting and gun clubs.
The push against the legislation also resulted in what the SSAA described as the largest ePetition ever conducted in the history of NSW Parliament, with more than 28,000 signatures.
The Parliamentary Legal Affairs committee was chaired by Shooters Farmers and Fishers Party MLC Robert Borsak, with Greens MLC David Shoebridge as deputy chair.