Dr Samara McPhedran

About Dr Samara McPhedran

Dr Samara McPhedran holds a PhD in Psychology and has published extensive research examining Australian and international firearm policy and gun violence. She does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that might benefit from this article. Dr McPhedran has been appointed to a number of firearms advisory panels and committees, most recently as a member of the Queensland Ministerial Advisory Panel on Firearms, and as a previous member of the Commonwealth Firearms Advisory Council. She does not receive any financial remuneration or other rewards for these activities. She has held past memberships with/volunteered for a range of not-for-profit firearm-related organisations and women's advocacy groups. She is not a member of any political party. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.

Claims of ‘watered down’ gun laws well off-target

Approx Reading Time-11The rhetoric surrounding the watering down of our gun laws are fatuous, as we should be having an entirely different conversation.

You have to hand it to David Leyonhjelm: whenever he says the F-word (firearms) all hell reliably breaks loose. Throw in a sprinkling of political intrigue about broken deals, a few comments about the Adler lever-action shotgun, and the resulting hysteria is media heaven on a slow news day. It has also, rather conveniently for the embattled government, momentarily shifting our attention from the Australian Building and Construction Commission Bill.

Underlying this angst is the question of whether or not the Commonwealth should lift its import ban on Adler shotguns with a more than five round magazine. Imposed mid-2015, the ban has been repeatedly extended while states and territories (who have responsibility for regulating firearms) consider whether to impose new types of ownership restrictions on the gun.

Despite hyperventilating commenters and politicians describing it as a rapid-fire killing machine, the Adler is, by any measure, old technology. In fact, lever-action shotguns have been around for well over a century.


Are we “watering down” our gun laws?

Short answer, no. In fact, the claim that the Adler A110 move will soften Australian gun laws is nothing but blatant fiction. Lever-action shotguns have always been permitted in Australia, and for the past 20 years have been available to persons who hold ‘Category A’ licences.

To obtain a Category A licence, a person must be over 18 years of age, complete approved safety training, and have a ‘genuine reason’ for owning firearms (self-defence is prohibited). Those who hold the licence must be a ‘fit and proper person’, which rules out anyone with a history of, for example, violence (including domestic violence), illicit drug use, misuse of weapons, or other criminal activities, and all firearms must be locked in a safe when not in use.


Why is the Adler causing such a fuss?

The furore over the Adler illustrates how poor the quality of public debate around firearm policy is in Australia. Rather than a calm and factual discussion, we see overblown rhetoric, outright dishonesty, and seemingly endless manufactured outrage.

It is important to put this into its historical context. Efforts to prohibit, or at very least heavily restrict, the Adler reflect an ongoing obsession with the concept of ‘gun control’. The main arguments made against the Adler reflect a way of thinking that has not moved on since its inception in the 1980s. Back then, it was assumed that more guns meant more crime, and certain types of guns were connected with ‘higher dangerousness’.

Both assumptions have since been dispelled by Australian and International evidence.

However, over the past 30 years, the mere act of being seen to be advocating for gun control has become a ‘received’ way of signalling moral virtue. If you want gun control you are ‘good’ and if you question its efficacy or logic you are ‘bad’. This is why gun control continues to appeal to many politicians.

Unfortunately, Australia’s fixation with gun control has also come at the expense of ‘gun violence control’. Those two things are not synonymous. Depending on the form of legislation and specific type of violence we are interested in, they may certainly be related – but they are not identical.

Gun control is easy – all it involves is passing laws. Gun violence control, on the other hand, is incredibly difficult. It goes far beyond law and order, encompassing complex elements of human society and behaviour: poverty, disadvantage, unemployment, connections with illicit drugs and other forms criminal involvement, social fragmentation, hopelessness…the list goes on.

Tackling gun violence calls for evidence-based, cohesive, and collaborative efforts that adopt a whole-of-community perspective. It takes long-term thinking and commitment. Many other developed nations have realised this, but Australia has a lot of catching up to do. When was the last time you heard commentators and politicians talk seriously about a comprehensive strategy for controlling gun violence?

Not when they deliver fiery sermons about the Adler, that’s for sure.

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