– which they base on ‘could’, ‘may’, ‘potential’ and ‘assumption’

The NSC wrote to eight jurisdictional regulators about the policy rationale underpinning our appearance laws and has received seven responses back.     Of those seven:

  • Two jurisdictions offered explanations of why they have the laws;
  • One jurisdiction showed it doesn’t even understand what its own laws do;
  • The other four did not address the question.

Collectively, the responses paint a picture of states and territories that reached policy positions without any form of analysis, which is a process that governments would normally reject. 

Yet the laws are leading to adverse outcomes for the shooting industry for no apparent benefit– which is why they need to be removed.

The NSC will send the responses – warts and all – to the Federal Home Affairs Minister in an endeavour to show why she should lead a push to have the law removed from the National Firearms Agreement.

What are appearance laws?

WE ALL KNOW our jurisdictional regulators have an unhealthy love for ‘appearance’ laws.

The laws, which barely rate a mention in the National Firearms Agreement, enable our registries to move normally legal firearms (in category A or B) to category D – prohibiting them from use by the average shooter. 

It means the gun you want to buy tomorrow, might not be legal tomorrow because of some cosmetic feature. Or it could apply to a gun you already own.

This is fraught with problems because in addition to banning a gun simply because of something so artificial, jurisdictions have no published guidelines – which mean decisions vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. That’s hardly a national agreement.

As many of you know, the NSC has been winning case after case fighting reclassification in our legal system because of this poor planning. 

However it is a law that continues to cause problems, especially for importers and wholesalers, some of whom are teaming up with the NSC.

The justifications

In February this year, the NSC wrote to police ministers in every state and territory, and the Federal Home Affairs minister simply asking what the policy justification for the law is.

We received seven responses in all.  Here are what they said:

  *   Western Australia – the WA minister referred our correspondence to WA Police given the government was in ‘caretaker’ mode for the March state election.  While this is true, the caretaker convention only exists to ensure that decisions are not made that bind the incoming government.   It does not stop government from operating.  As our enquiry was of a historical nature, the caretaker referral was not necessary. In other words, it was a cop-out to answering our question. 

Click here to see the full response.

  *   South Australia – the response from SA states it does not have appearance-based firearms legislation, which is correct.
 
We knew this when we wrote the jurisdictions but decided to include SA just in case it was being contemplated.  Suffice to say, there is no indication that SA is going down that path. Not yet anyway.

Click here to see the full response.

  *   Northern Territory – the minister’s response states what the law is and that it has been used twice in 23 years. 

We know what the law is (it’s why we wrote to them) but wanted to know why the law is needed, which the response didn’t say. 

Click here to see the full response.

  *   New South Wales – This was the first response that sought to ‘answer the question’.  It says the law applies to firearms “for which the appearance may be additionally intimidating or threatening.”

Response from NSW

One reading of this suggests that if Man Haron Monis – who used an illegal category C shotgun for the Lindt Café siege in Sydney – had instead used a gun reclassified to category D – then the police might have ‘taken that shot’ after all.  We all know that is a nonsense but is how the response could be interpreted.  

We appreciate that the response provided a policy basis (as requested), but the explanation is not supported by any examples or data – just a concern that something ‘may’ happen.  

The predominant consideration in the Lindt Café siege needed to be the threat to the hostages, not whether the firearm looked like another one.  It means that the appearance law should have no bearing on how first responders respond to an incident, and in fact relying on it could have led to an even more tragic outcome.

Click here to see the full response.

  *   Tasmania – Like WA, our correspondence to the police minister was referred to the police under the caretaker convention as the state has an election on 1 May.   However like WA, our enquiry was of a historical nature, so we see this as another cop-out. 

In any case Tasmania Police responded by saying the policy rationale was an “assumption that such firearms could cause significant public concern’:

Response from Tas

Click here to see the full response.

  *   Queensland – this one’s a corker.  This response is based on information from Queensland Police and states:

You read it right  – according to the Queensland minister’s office, the law doesn’t affect category A or B firearms – only D and R!

We felt sorry for the author – the police ministers Chief of Staff – who had obviously been relying on advice provided to her, so we wrote back pointing out that she had been misled and invited her to provide a new response. 

However nothing further has been received.  Therefore, in the absence of any further information, the only conclusion we can reach is that Queensland shooters have a police minister’s office that isn’t across the firearms portfolio.

Click here to see the full response.

  *   Federal – the response states there is a ‘potential’ risk from reclassified firearms, but otherwise simply restates what the legislative arrangements are: 

Quote from the feds

What matters to us here is that the federal government should be able to explain why it has appearance in the NFA that it is responsible for – but it cannot.  The best it can come up with is something that is based on ‘potential‘, which is speculative at best.

Click here to see the full response.

Victoria did not respond, which we interpret as being on par with Queensland in not understanding the portfolio.

What good policy looks like

Laws should only exist where there are good policy reasons to do so.  Good policy involves assessing the costs and benefits supporting the need for the policy position.  For example, to save lives, stimulate economic growth or protect the community in some other way.

In the case of the appearance laws, most jurisdictions have no explanation for why it exists. No jurisdiction provided data, and no jurisdiction was able to quantify the benefit. One jurisdiction -Queensland – doesn’t even know what its own appearance laws do and Victoria is arguably the same.

The two states that offered explanations, based them on scenarios that ‘may’ or ‘could’ happen. The Tasmanian response was predicated on an ‘assumption‘, and the federal response on a ‘potential‘.

This, and the fact the laws have real costs with no stated benefit, is a serious departure from the government’s own requirements on regulatory practice.

So if you thought the basis of appearance laws was hollow, then you’re right. Given the negative impact this law has, and the probability of more legal challenges, it’s clear as to why this law needs to go.

We write to the Home Affairs Minister

The NSC has written to the Home Affairs Minister attaching all seven responses and requesting that the appearance laws be removed from the NFA, and for her to ask the states / territories to remove them from their statutes by a common date, to ensure consistency across the borders.

We understand your cynicism – but will let you know if anything comes of it.

Why not support our work? You can join the NSC simply by clicking here.

17 thoughts on “Why our lawmakers want appearance laws

  1. Ces BARRAZA says:

    It’s great to see you addressing these antiquated and ridiculous laws. It’s akin to banning cars because they look too “sporty” or banning clothes because they look too “tactical”. Keep up the great work 👍🏼

    • Dave Mcloughlin says:

      Why not ban “aggressive Hair cuts”.
      People with “crew cuts” are obviously neo nazi skin heads.
      Ban body building, people resembling a (much younger Arnie)
      could be terminators.
      At the end of the day it can be argued that most rifles, have a “military appearance”.
      Ditto hand guns.
      The authorities are confusing form and function.
      Probably deliberately.

  2. Jack Leslie says:

    Thank you so much for demonstrating the willpower to seek offical answers to/attempt to dismantle the ill legislation that so many shooters in Australia suffer from for no apparent reason. Please keep fighting the good fight for people who just want to enjoy themselves, by themselves, without the unnecessary bureaucratic strain placed on a sport/hobby/agricultural tool-set that is literally quite inaccessible to anyone not first deemed a fit and proper person by their state.

  3. Scott says:

    What a joke, intimidating the public or the police not being sure what category of firearm they are staring down the barrel of.
    If your transporting a firearm it needs to be out of sight so won’t affect the delicate sensibilities of the hyper fearful public. So it won’t be visible unless your hunting (low chance of public encounters and a gun is a gun anyway) or at a range where guns are expected to be seen.
    And if your waving a gun around threateningly to police then I highly doubt they will be concerned about what category it falls in.
    This country is a joke

  4. Gavin Walker says:

    The NSC is absolutely correct in its ethos and approach. You genuinely represent what the average firearms owners concerns are. Please keep chipping away as change never comes easily, particularly when you are dealing with individuals and groups who lack knowledge and have personal and professional bias.

    • john ordish says:

      I and others have discussed these pedantic antics by the WLB ,and have come to the conclusion that we don,t have Gun Laws ,we are hampered by “” Feelings “” ,
      If the Approvals Officer “” Feels “”you shouldn’t have a particular firearm ,then your PTA can be refused .

      • hk says:

        Or if a particular video posted in the public domain “feels” like it could be ‘dangerous’ – why IPSC NSW took the decision years ago to outlaw any member posting competition footage online, in case some Registry bureaucrat took ignorant offence and summarily shut down the club (wouldn’t be the first time). OR the whole discipline for that matter.

  5. Keith says:

    The only firearm that I’ve personally seen and used that should be classified cat d is the F88T: a semi automatic .22 version of the F88 Steyr. I used it in cadets. But to classify a firearm as cat d on appearance, it should first be a semi auto. Then all cat a and b firearms would be left alone.

  6. Pearse O'Connor says:

    The average Police responder to an incident wouldn’t ( most likely ) have a clue about what catagory licence would be required, nor the type of weapon involved unless inspected very closely in an un stressed situation, and IF a firearm is used in an incident, tactically the looks are unimportant in contrast to calibre and method of operation.
    If the community was not constantly fed misinformation from the media about weapons crimes where every time it’s an AR 15 “Assault rifle ” and were not placed in a constant fear of firearms but were educated instead , then appearance would not be an issue. The media has a lot to answer for in relation to public fear they keep instilling in the un educated just to create a headline.

  7. Philip Brown says:

    I have a slightly different take on “appearance” laws. They are a police construct.
    Police operate on the basis that they need to intimidate the community; who they regard as “criminals who have not been caught”. This is the basis for the police having larger calibre handguns and high capacity magazines; also why Cat C and D are heavily restricted. The police are thus highly offended by the community having access to items having any shred of resemblance to the equipment they use – remember the outcry over the Adler lever shotgun. Thus, railed fore ends, adjustable stocks, visible magazines, thumbhole grips and muzzle brakes threaten their image of technical superiority: ‘your codpiece looks as big as mine. How dare you?’ It is not the public who could be “frightened and offended”, it is the police who are frightened an offended!

  8. Richard Thompson says:

    > “to show why she should lead a push to have the law removed from the National Firearms Agreement.”

    This is exactly why I continue to be an NSC member and donate.

    Not only has the NSC won numerous cases it has the perseverance and dedication to start rolling back the insidious bureau-creep of gun laws.

    We lost ground by inches and apathy. The challenge is to enthusiastically reclaim it in leaps and bounds.

    The NSC has stoked the fire in my belly.

  9. C.J. says:

    Great news for Qld.
    Now NSC can show the letter that the Minister has decreed ‘appearance’ only applies to Cat D&R not Cat A&B.
    And, since the NFA is supposed to be National, maybe even use it in other states..?

  10. Neil Tenardi says:

    Oh dear, I hope our young men and women who want to join the military today are not asked to undergo a psychiatric test first to make sure they are not afraid of the appearance of the fire arm they will have to use. Our masters are telling us to fear a tactical type firearm. But don’t worry about the others.’

    I would be more afraid of that bit of led coming out of the barrel than what the firearm looked like that it was coming out of.

  11. Bern says:

    I heard from some tradesmen working at Parliament House that the politicians wanted them to stop wearing hi vis because they didn’t like the ‘appearance’ of it. so to speak. When informed how they though it would look for them in the news they backed down from the idea. True story. It pretty much sums them up.

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