The Australian federal, state and territory governments have amended the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), but haven’t announced it to the public. Instead they recently posted the 2017 agreement on the attorney-general’s website.
Neither George Brandis nor Australian justice minister Michael Keenan have issued an official statement about the updated agreement that was finalised at a Council of Australian Governments meeting last month.
The controversial Adler ban
It can be presumed that the reason for the lack of fanfare surrounding the new agreement is the implications it has on the Adler A110 lever-action shotgun ban.
In July 2015, a ban was placed on the importation of the seven-shot Adler (seven rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber) pending a review of the 1996 National Firearms Agreement (NFA) that was prompted by the 2014 Lindt café siege.
It has been reported that the banned Adler can unload eight rounds in eight seconds, and is said to be more lethal than the weapon used by Man Haron Monis in the Martin Place siege. Manis’ sawn-off pump-action shotgun could reportedly fire four shots in five seconds.
But firearm groups say the Adler is no more lethal than other weapons in the licence category. They contend that the ban is a knee-jerk political reaction which demonstrates the government’s lack of understanding when it comes to firearms.
The new NFA is an amalgamation of the 1996 NFA and the 2002 Handgun Agreement. The original NFA was introduced by the Howard government as a response to the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996. The former PM has been praised internationally for the stance he took on gun control at that time.
The initial NFA established five categories of gun licences: A, B, C, D and H. Category A firearms are said to be the least powerful, with limited firing capacity. Under the 1996 NFA, lever-action shotguns – like the Adler – were classed in this category.
The chair of Gun Control Australia, Samantha Lee, remarked in the Guardian that gun technology has come a long way over the last two decades. She says that lever-actions have come a long way since first being classed as A licence firearms, developing to become as lethal as pump-action shotguns.
The long-time anti-gun lobbyist was pushing for lever-actions to be classified as category C firearms, along with semi-automatics. This would have restricted their use to primary producers and some sporting shooters.
However, the updated NFA now classifies lever-action guns with no more than five rounds as category B weapons. This means they’ll be accessible by more shooters, as the licence category makes weapons available for sporting, recreational and occupational purposes.
The readily available Adler
The five-shot Adler (five rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber) has been legally sold in Australia since importations were permitted in October 2015. Over 7,400 of the weapons have been imported.
Nine different models of these shotguns are available from the firearm supplier NIOA, and any of the nation’s B licence gun owners can buy one.
However, it’s not just the licensed owners of these lever-actions that can access them. Figures released by Gun Control Australia last November suggest that between 2013 and 2015, 6,451 firearms were stolen nationwide, and the majority of them were category A and B weapons.
NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge believes authorities are “effectively greenlighting” the release of thousands of these “multiple shot, seriously lethal” weapons into the community.
“What makes that more troubling is that it can readily be altered to have a far larger magazine capacity and no police anywhere are checking for that,” he told Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.
Chief executive of the Australian Crime Commission, Chris Dawson, warned justice minister Keenan back in July 2015, that imported Adlers could have their magazines extended.
Since the introduction of these firearms, a national magazine extension market has opened up, which allows five-shot owners to extend their weapon’s magazine to hold up to eleven rounds.
The banned Adler is on its way
Under the new NFA, the seven-shot Adler A110 shotgun is classified under the most restrictive category of D. This makes it available to those who can demonstrate they have a genuine need for the firearm for professional reasons.
The agreement also outlines a number of weapons that are subject to import restrictions, but lever-action shotguns are not listed. This leaves the federal government in the position where they can either lift restrictions on the importation of the Adler A110, or let the temporary ban expire.
Mr Shoebridge said Australia is “undoubtedly” about to allow the importation of the Adler A110. He believes, as most gun control advocates do, that there’s no need for this “additional high capacity weapon” in the country.
According to Mr Shoebridge, the classification of the Adler A110 in the D category is a step forward, as twelve months ago, state and federal governments wanted to classify it as category B.
“the lifting of the import ban on multiple shot lever action shotguns is most troubling,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“We know that there are backorders for thousands and thousands of these weapons waiting for the import ban to lift,” he added. “As soon as it does, we’re going to have a wave of these weapons.”
Meetings with gun lobbyists
In October last year, Australian Greens senator Lee Rhiannon and Mr Shoebridge released minutes from meetings that were held between minister Keenan and a firearms industry reference group.
The meetings took place in August and September 2015, and had a focus on broadening the importation of firearms, removing current limits on gun ownership and weakening gun laws in Australia.
As a result of the minutes coming to light, a group of 30 domestic violence groups, gun control advocates, politicians and prominent Australians joined in criticising the justice minister over his lack of consultation with the wider public about the changes to the firearms agreement.
“Dropped it like a gun”
Mr Shoebridge says he finds it hard to believe the government released a report on a matter that “was the subject of intense political debate” in such a closeted manner.
“They did the digital equivalent of putting it on public display in a local council’s basement, in a locked room, in a filing cabinet marked ‘Beware the leopard’.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.