The Australian Defence Force was forced to restrict air space at RAAF Base Pearce as a high-powered 0.50 calibre sniper rifle was fired during a demonstration to promote new gun laws.
Premier Mark McGowan, then-police commissioner Chris Dawson and Police Minister Paul Papalia attended the media event at the WA Rifle Association’s firing range in Pinjar in March last year to illustrate why the high-powered weapons needed to be taken off the streets.
On Mondy night’s episode of Up Late Ben Harvey quipped that the RAAF was ‘scared’ of McGowan’s press conference.
“WA Police and the McGowan government are copping some heat over a press conference on gun control they held last year,” he said.
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“It was a nifty photo op… the star of the show was a five calibre rifle… the most powerful legal firearm in WA… the cops want them banned.
The exercise caused the Royal Australian Air Force and the SAS all sorts of bother, they warned the cops the range was unsuitable.
“The airforce went so far as to issue a ‘notice to airmen’… they told pilots at a nearby RAF base there was the danger or ricochet for anyone flying under 18,000 feet.
“It will go down as one of the great examples of spin doctors getting ahead of themselves.”
Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws showed police were given warnings from its own officers, the SAS and RAAF about the demonstration.
In one document, an SAS Regiment warrant officer said he “considers the activity would be extremely unsafe and would pose serious risk to property and persons” which he said as a defence force member he “cannot support”.
Another document from an RAAF Pearce squadron leader highlighted that “the impact to flying operations is significant for a non-ADF and non-priority activity” and asked for other rifle ranges to be considered.
“We want to facilitate this shoot, however with the short notice and lack of information it is presenting a safety operational risk at this time,” the email stated.
An urgent Notice to Airmen then had to be issued for danger to a height of 18,000ft for flights about the airbase and inbound from Perth for two days, between 8am and 3pm, to avoid ricochet threat as the media event went ahead.
“These projectiles have a significant velocity and could cause very serious damage to an aircraft if inadvertently struck by one,” the request for a NOTAM said.
WA Police said it was assessed as safe to use the range for the demonstration with the rifle, which cost taxpayers $8500.
WA Police said the $8500 rifle bought ahead of the press event served “multiple purposes” for the force, including use as a reference firearm in the ballistic library, which is used to test firing and forensic comparisons for criminal investigations.