A controversial ban on the eight-shot Adler A110 lever-action shotgun will remain in place, after state police ministers failed to reach a consensus on its reclassification last Friday.
NSW police minister Troy Grant told the meeting that his state would not agree to a D classification for the shotgun, which manufacturers say can fire off eight rounds in eight seconds.
A D classification is what the police ministers of all other states recommended. It would mean the weapon would only be available to the military and police, but Mr Grant said he didn’t want to hurt farmers.
The Adler ban
If the police ministers had agreed on the reclassification, current prime minister Malcolm Turnbull would likely have lifted a ban imposed by former prime minister Tony Abbott.
In July 2015, the ban was placed on the eight-shot Adler (seven in the magazine and one in the chamber) pending a review of the 1996 National Firearms Agreement (NFA) that was prompted the 2014 Lindt café siege.
The banned Adler is said to be a more lethal weapon than the one used used by Man Haron Monis in the Sydney siege. His sawnoff pump-action shotgun could reportedly fire four shots in five seconds.
Australian gun licensing categories
In Australia, there are five categories of gun licences: A, B, C, D and H. This system of licensing was established by the National Firearms Agreement (NFA).
The NFA was introduced by the Howard government as a response to the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996.
Category A firearms are said to be the least powerful weapons, and have limited firing capacity. Lever-action shotguns – like the Adler – are included in this category.
According to Samantha Lee, chair of Gun Control Australia, the problem with the system is that since the time lever-action shotguns were included in the A category, technology has come a long way.
Although the guns are still based on an 1880s firearm design, they can now hold more ammunition, the magazine can be extended to carry more bullets and they can fire at a faster rate.
Ms Lee believes they should be classified as a category C firearm – along with pump-action shotguns – as this would restrict their use to primary producers and some sporting shooters.
The legal Adler
The six-shot Adler (five in the magazine and one in the chamber) can be legally sold in Australia.
Since October last year when importations of the six-shot were permitted, around 7,000 have entered the country.
The firearm supplier NIOA currently sells nine different models of the shotgun, which are available to all of the nation’s 800,000 category A recreational gun owners.
Chris Dawson, chief executive of the Australian Crime Commission, warned Australian justice minister Michael Keenan on July 21 last year, that imported Adlers can have their magazines extended.
A magazine extension market has opened up in Australia since the six-shot has been available, which allows owners to extend the weapon’s magazine to up to eleven rounds.
Gun lobbyists argue that there have been comparable weapons available in the country for decades, such as the .22 lever-action, which is a category A firearm that holds twelve rounds.
The politicking behind the ban
But there’s more to the debate on lifting the ban on the eight-shot Adler, than the obvious harm the weapon could cause in the wrong hands.
Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm says the recommendation by most state police ministers of a D classification would effectively ban its importation.
The senator suspects that’s what the federal government and most states want.
Mr Leyonhjelm is a pro-gun politician, who left the Liberals after the Howard government cracked down on gun ownership in the wake of Port Arthur.
In September last year, the Abbott government cut a deal with senator Leyonhjelm. In exchange for his vote against Labor amendments to the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometric Integrity) Bill 2015, the government promised the ban would be lifted in August this year.
However, as the classification of the eight-shot Adler had not been resolved by the time the ban was scheduled to end, the Turnbull government banned the weapon outright.
Last week, the debate over the Adler shotgun was triggered again. Senator Leyonhjelm said he’d consider supporting the government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation, in exchange for a lifting of the ban.
The prime minister initially refused to rule out the prospect on Monday, but subsequently said the ban was “set in stone,” unless the states came to an agreement on the reclassification of the weapon.
Former PMs weigh in
Former prime minister Tony Abbott recently threw in his two cents’ worth, dismissing reports that he had negotiated with senator Leyonhjelm over the ban, asserting that the shotguns should never be allowed into the country.
The debate also promoted former prime minister John Howard, to step forward and recommend no watering down of the nation’s guns laws.
Mr Howard said the laws were “respected around the world as being very effective,” noting they could even be strengthened.
Proposed reclassification of the legal Adler
On Tuesday, Australian deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce said he thinks the already legal six-shot Adler should be placed under tighter restrictions.
Mr Joyce wants the firearm to be classified as category B. “I don’t want to make it so they are virtually impossible to get,” he said. “I believe they should be slightly higher rated than they are at the moment.”
The government meets with gun lobbyists
In a joint press release on Wednesday, Australian Greens senator Lee Rhiannon and NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge released minutes from meetings held between Australian justice minister Michael Keenan and a firearms industry reference group.
The meetings – that took place in August and September last year – had a focus on broadening the importation of firearms, removing current limits on gun ownership and weakening gun laws in Australia.
“If the government’s review of the National Firearms Agreement is to have any credibility,” Mr Shoebridge said in the release, “then it needs to be far more than just exclusive and one-sided meetings with the gun lobby.”
The Greens have joined a coalition of gun control advocates to start an online petition demanding the Turnbull government actively engage with parties outside of the gun lobby.
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.