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Gun law changes dropped by Tasmanian Liberals following community backlash

| 17.08,18. 06:01 PM |

Gun law changes dropped by Tasmanian Liberals following community backlash

Photo: The proposed changes included allowing access to a wider range of weapons to sporting shooters. (Pixabay)

An election promise to change Tasmania's gun laws has been abandoned, with the Liberal Government acknowledging the community's "deeply held concerns" over safety and confidence in the law.

The changes would have allowed some licence holders access to silencers and extend gun licence duration.

The controversial gun law policy was circulated to interest groups, including farmers during the election campaign, but only came to public light on the day before the state election.

Today, Premier Will Hodgman issued a statement saying the Tasmanian Government understood "there are deeply held concerns about public safety, and in an area as important to Tasmanians as gun laws, public confidence in our laws is essential".

"We have consistently said that we will not do anything to undermine the National Firearms Agreement. Our firearms laws are among the toughest in the world and that is how they should remain."

The Liberals had said the policy to relax firearms laws was aimed at sporting shooters and helping farmers do their jobs by allowing greater access to "tools of the trade" category C firearms, such as self-loading rifles and pump-action shotguns.

Other promises outlined in February 2018 correspondence by then-police minister Rene Hidding to "key stakeholder groups", but not the wider public, included "an end to inappropriate delays and waiting times", a move to "establish a digital platform where every firearm owner in Tasmania can manage their own licence and registration" and extending licence periods for certain categories of firearms to 10 years.

'Military appearance law' review scrapped

The Liberals also promised to "amend the regulations so that where a lawful firearms owner (including a dealer) has been found in contravention of storage laws for relatively minor reasons, an infringement notice may be issued rather than a summons, and no firearms will be removed as a result, if the contravention is rectified without delay".

A full review of "military appearance" laws, which prohibit the possession or use of firearms that "duplicate in appearance" a machine gun, submachine gun or "other firearm capable of propelling projectiles in rapid succession during one pressure of the trigger" was also promised.

Sporting Shooters Association of Australia Tasmanian president Andrew Judd said he was disappointed the Government had abandoned the reforms, which he said were negotiated "over a long period of time" with the Mr Hidding, police and stakeholders.

"It's upsetting that they're not following through with them. The Government made a commitment to a large proportion of the voting public," Mr Judd said.

Those sentiments were echoed by Shooters, Farmers and Fishers Party chairman Wayne Turale, who said there were about 30,000 licensed firearm owners in the state.

"It's disappointing to hear that the Government at this stage have decided to walk away from their commitment," Mr Turale said.

Labor has labelled the Government's backdown as an "embarrassing backflip".

Labor MP Sarah Lovell said her party had suspected the planned changes would breach the National Firearms Agreement if implemented.

"We said from the start that the Government should have walked away from this policy," Ms Lovell said.

"If they wanted to look at reforming gun laws in Tasmania there are ways they could have done that that would have allowed members of the community to have a say and have some input into that process."

Since the policy came to light in March, the Liberals have had to defend the announcement, with survivors and first responders from the 1996 Port Arthur massacre among those outraged by the proposals.

In July, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) released a statement saying it had been "22 years since the Port Arthur massacre, if our gun control laws loosen, we will not just go back 22 years but the lives lost will tragically have been in vain".

"The Australian Senate passed unprecedented gun laws in June 1996 just twelve days after Martin Bryant used semi-automatic rifles to slaughter 35 people at Port Arthur," the statement said, adding the legislation had proven to be "one of Australia's most successful public health measures".

The RACS statement said just prior to the Port Arthur shooting, a training course in "early management of severe trauma" had been held in Hobart, with hospital staff having to put into action what they had learned once the wounded began to arrive.

The proposed changes by the Tasmanian Government "contravene the spirit of the National Firearms agreement and legislation which is there to limit access to dangerous weapons in the community", RACS said.

"In the 18 years prior to the introduction of these gun laws, there were 13 fatal mass shootings in Australia — 104 victims were killed. Since their introduction, there has been only the one mass shooting, in Margaret River. Australia acted and produced successful legislation to reduce mass killing by firearms. It has worked and continues to work."

"We live in a society free from the alarming gun violence statistics that is the envy of others and we are grateful to live peacefully without constantly fearing for the safety of our lives — and our children's lives," RACS said.

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