There’s lots of things to love about living in Australia, but as a police officer, our gun laws would have to be one of the top reasons. Every time I see an article or a news report about gun crime in the USA, I thank my lucky stars I work in Australia.
In sixteen years of policing, I have NEVER drawn my gun at a job (only ever at training). I have TWICE been at a job where my partner has drawn their gun (one of those times, I completely disagreed with my partner). I have NEVER had a gun drawn on me. I have NEVER arrested a person to find afterwards they were armed with a gun. I’m just guessing here, but find me an American cop who can say that.
In the US, they go to work with body armour on. We pack a bulletproof vest into the back of the police car. They have to assume every person they come across is armed. Yes – we’re meant to assume that too. We are taught that people are either a high threat (if you can see the weapon) or an unknown threat (if you can’t see their weapon). But the weapon is more likely going to be a knife or a jemmy bar in Australia. There just aren’t that many guns around. The bikies have them, but they’re smart enough to use them on each other and pretty much no-one else.
I think this creates a different attitude towards guns. Although I can strip my Glock and put it back together again, I am not comfortable with it. If I did draw my gun, it would be a major event for me. And it is considered serious enough that internal rules state I would have to put a report on about it. Forget pulling any trigger – simply drawing my Taser out of its holster also warrants a report.
I believe all of this fosters a greater respect for guns. Add to that Australia’s stringent gun laws and the result is that gun crime in Australia is minimal.
In 1996, there was a horrible massacre in Tasmania, where a single person of dubious intellectual capacity managed to obtain a number of weapons and commit mass murder. This resulted in a public outcry. The government responded swiftly with strict gun laws enforced nationally. There was a gun buyback scheme and weapons amnesties to either reduce or register firearms across the country. Since then, it is difficult to obtain a licence for a semi-automatic, an automatic weapon or a handgun. Even obtaining a licence for a rifle is expensive and time-consuming.
In Queensland, a weapon’s licence application fee is $94.55 and an extra $31.20 for every year you want to hold the licence for. So an application plus a ten year licence will set you back in excess of $400. Add to that another $100-odd for a safety course. And that’s just the licence. Then you need a permit to acquire a weapon. This currently costs $35.70 per weapon, and each permit is issued for one particular firearm only. People regularly express dismay at the cost and the lengthy process involved – sometimes it can take months. But as a police officer, I’m all for it. I would rather have this restrictive expensive system than one where everyone gets a gun.
Weapon’s licences can also be revoked at any time and guns can be removed from their owners. If people’s licences expire, police will come and take their guns. They then have the opportunity to renew their licence and retrieve their guns or they can arrange for the legal disposal of their guns. If they do nothing, after ninety days, police have the right to destroy the guns. If a Domestic Violence Order is taken out against someone, that person’s guns are removed for the duration of the order (usually two years). They can sign them over to someone else, or pay to store them at a gun dealer for that time period. But there is no guarantee they will be able to get a new licence after the two years are up. Depending on the circumstances, they may be deemed by the Weapons Licencing Bureau as not being a ‘suitable’ person to hold a gun licence. In general, anyone may be deemed as not being a ‘suitable’ person. This is open to definition and may, of course be contested, but the guns are seized and held in safekeeping until a determination is made.
It really is a privilege to have the authority to own a gun, a weapon that can casually kill a person with little effort and no training. I’m so grateful it is treated that way in Australia.