A guest post by David Leyonhjelm
Legislation currently before the South Australian parliament introduces a new concept in law enforcement – Firearms Prohibition Orders. It is a further step in the advance of the police state.
The SA Minister for Police says the legislation is a response to the Tonic Nightclub shootings last year and “targets criminals such as criminal bikie gangs and their associates that resort too readily to violence to advance their illegal activities.”
He also says it represents a “first step in a process of refocusing the attention of police from regulation of the legitimate firearms community toward combating criminals who wield firearms in the pursuit of their criminal endeavours.”
The explanation to the Bill says that the focus should be on the behaviour of persons rather than the firearm itself. That all sounds good. Sporting shooters have long argued that the focus of the law should be on those who use guns for illegal purposes, not those who harm nobody else. However, as with similar laws involving drugs and terrorism, the consequences go well beyond what is intended. What the government says and what it is doing are quite different.
The key purpose of the Firearms Prohibition Order (FPO) is to give the police a new tool to control bikie gangs by focusing on access to guns. However, the legislation does not define a ‘criminal bikie’ and FPOs are not confined to them. Rather, it relies on the term ‘fit and proper person’. Thus, apart from applying to anyone with a known history of serious crime or violence, FPOs can also be applied to anyone suspected of being a danger to life or property if they possess a firearm. Life includes their own.
The Bill places a legal onus on medical professionals to report to the Registrar anyone they consider ‘may’ be a risk to themselves or others if they possessed firearms. They are indemnified if they get it wrong.
There are two types of FPOs – interim and full. Interim FPOs can be issued by any police officer with the verbal authority of their supervisor, or without authority by a Sergeant or above. The intended subject can be arrested for up to 2 hours to allow the order to be served. The subject must notify the Registrar of his/her address and the FPO expires 28 days after notification unless made permanent by the Registrar. (Presumably if the Registrar is not notified the FPO remains in effect.)
Full FPOs are issued by the Registrar of firearms and continue until revoked. A FPO can be imposed ‘in the public interest’ based on criminal intelligence. Although there is provision for appeal to a court, the intelligence cannot be disclosed. The subject is thus unable even to correct inaccuracies.
A person against whom a FPO is in force must not acquire, possess or use a firearm, firearm part or ammunition. They may not reside in premises where there is a firearm or attend a firearms range or dealership. Those subject to full FPOs can be stopped and searched on sight and their place of residence inspected for firearms or ammunition at ‘any reasonable time’. The police may also require a person who they suspect of committing a firearms-related offence to give their name and answer questions about the firearm. It will be an offence not to do so.
Anyone breaching a Firearms Prohibition Order faces a maximum penalty of a $75,000 fine and up to 15 years imprisonment. So based on all that, here’s my list of the main affronts in this legislation. There may be more.
1. The law focuses on suspicion, not behaviour. Suspicion of suicidal thoughts or association with bikies is sufficient to be subjected to extreme coercion. After being repeatedly searched and required to answer questions, most people will probably be in breach of some aspect of the law anyway. Perhaps that’s the intention.
2. The right to remain silent has been lost.
3. The right to take your own life is compromised.
4. No warrant is required to search the home of someone to whom a FPO applies.
5. Sporting shooters will be even more reluctant to discuss their health with doctors, particularly when it involves something like depression.
6. The State reserves for itself sole right to firearms, insisting others may have them only as a privilege.
7. Corrupt police will be able to use the law to their benefit. South Australia has no anti-corruption organisation.