Birds, rabbits, foxes, pigs, you name it – farms attract vermin that need controlling.
Most farmers have firearms. Some pastoral properties have cannons big enough to take down camels at range or 9mm pistols to shoot cattle. A small berry farm might have an air rifle with a laser night scope and silencer. All are legitimate weapons for the war against vermin.
To some, in their perfect world, we would have no firearms in the community, but guns are an essential tool for farmers big and small and are a legitimate sporting and recreational tool for many responsible owners.
Where the line should be drawn between those who need them or use them for work, sport and recreation and community safety is an ongoing debate.
It’s certainly a debate that’s in full swing in Western Australia where the McGowan government is in the middle of a complete redraft of the laws as to who can have a gun and who can’t, along with what size, number, ammunition stocks, property location, size and mental health.
Currently WA has around 350,000 firearms in the hands of 80,000 licence holders. Of these there are around 10,000 farm businesses with say two licence holders each (20,000) plus 10,000 sporting shooters, which leaves 50,000 or so purely recreational gun licence holders holding around 200,000 firearms.
What percentage of these are at risk of being involved in a shooting death we have no idea, just as what percentage of the illegally-held guns – of which there could be up to 20,000 – are likely to be involved in a future shooting is also an unknown unknown. Questions that a good discussion paper would no doubt have explored had the government been prepared to consult with the community.
Instead, we are being drip fed with decisions that are impacting WA farmers with little link to the goal of improving community safety.
From the information available, we can assume that the state Government is going after the 50,000 law abiding voting people in an attempt to remove their 200,000 guns, while leaving 20,000 guns circulating illegally in the community.
Any changes to the firearms laws that does not include a well funded campaign supporting the police to go after the illegal guns deserves to be called out as both poor policy and policy on the cheap. We await the announcement with interest.
For the 50,000 recreational shooters to keep their firearms, they will need to find a farmer or pastoralist that will allow them to reapply to have ongoing access to their property for vermin control.
This will all be logged on a new data base that will no doubt cost millions of dollars and is likely to be cost recovered, pushing up the annual impost of holding a licence from the current $67 to $?, but let’s assume the $100 mark.
For those who can’t get a letter from a rural property owner, they will be forced to join a sporting shooters club or buy a farm to retain their weapons.
No doubt some enterprising sort will start a virtual gun club to save people from having to attend a minimum number of competition days a year, or to fork out the full $300 annual fees many clubs charge.
Add to that the mental medical that will be required every two or so years at around $200 and the cost for a recreational shooter will shoot up from $67 to around $500 a year.
This should go a small way towards the Minister’s goal of culling down the 50,000, but will it reduce the total number of firearms in the community?
My guess is that, like increases in fuel prices hitting four wheel drive owners, most will take the hit and drive on, or in the case of gun owners, fire on, as people love their utes and guns.
As for the illegal owners, they won’t be out of pocket or inconvenience unless targeted by the police, so those 20,000 firearms and their unknown number of owners will carry on undisturbed by the new laws.
As to additional restrictions on farmers and pastoralists, we are told there will be limits on the number of family and friends that can be linked to properties, along with calibre restrictions on small farms, plus the burden of a trip to the shrink every year or two to separate the sane from the depressed or the insane.
It’s all designed to push up the cost and inconvenience of owning firearms, but will it help reduce the 20 – 35 or so gun deaths a year, half of which are suicide? We have no data or peer-reviewed papers, just political promises.
However the global evidence is that tight gun control does reduce suicides and domestic violence-related deaths but has limited impact on crime-related deaths. But how tight is tight? We don’t know.
What we do know is the culture around guns is important. Take the United States – where 1 in 3 own a gun – vs Switzerland – which is also awash with guns with 1 in 4 owning a firearm – vs Australia, 1 in 15.
The rate of gun homicide in Switzerland is similar to Australia at 0.17 per 100,000 vs Australia 0.18, while the United States is a war zone at 4.46 per 100,000.
Interesting to note that Switzerland does not require regular mental health checks. In fact I can’t find any jurisdiction around the world, including Japan, demanding regular mental check ups, which raises questions of the legitimacy of the WA policy as an effective tool to reduce gun deaths.
Will the mental health checks make a difference? All the evidence is they won’t unless they are so regular and so comprehensive that they can pick up changes in people’s mental state in a timely manner.
Then there are the unforeseen consequences of attempting to pick the suicidal depressives from those just depressed, and the mass murdering psychopaths from the psychologically safe but different.
You can see the problem now. Let’s take a doctor ticking off the checklist, asking a farmer if they are depressed and they say yes (but fail to mention it’s because it has not rained) or asked if they have angry outbursts and they say yes (because they get frustrated with new technology in the tractor) and asked if they ever get angry with animals and they say yes (because the sheep would not load on a hot day and the dog went home) and if they get mad and yell at family and they say yes (when their son bent the new boom spray). Recommendation: Deny Application.
Any mental assessment is rife for problems. As to how the Minister’s expert steering group will come up with an assessment process that repeatedly picks up those who are a danger to themselves or others while avoiding those who are having a bad day is doomed to failure.
When the new laws are passed later this year, as they surely will be, then it’s only a matter of time before the push is on to export the new rules to the other states.
Will it stop the suicides and shootings? I doubt it. Will it inconvenience and cost farmers? Absolutely.
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