Tasmania, like all states, should be willing to deviate from the national norm when it is in the interest of Tasmanians to do so.
Last week the House of Assembly Select Committee on Firearms Legislation and Policy tabled its final report in Parliament.
The committee was set up in the wake of various claims that the government was about to amend firearms laws.
The committee reviewed submissions and correspondence from hundreds of Tasmanians passionately arguing about firearms policies. This final report is fascinating, not so much for its 15 steady-as-she-goes recommendations, but for the insight, it provides into Tasmania's psyche.
The report is laudable for its fairly balanced reflection of the wide variety of opinions held by members of the community. There are few issues in society as divisive and polemic as gun control. Overall the committee has done well to present all opinions in the report - even the confronting and controversial ones. However, its recommendations are tame. The emphasis on national uniformity and strict adherence to the National Firearms Agreement deprives Tasmania of individuality and the opportunity to embrace new and innovative approaches to the regulation of firearms.
It is almost as if we worry that compliance with the National Firearms Agreement is the only means of ensuring effective firearms law and that any departure will put us on a slippery slope to firearms anarchy.
Instead of a report with recommendations that bring our gun control laws into the 21st century, the buck is passed to the national level where agreement takes more time, effort, and resources to achieve.
The National Firearms Agreement was written in a time of different technologies, connections, and information.
Twenty-five years ago 3D-printed firearms were the realm of science fiction and comic books, Facebook was years away from launching, and mental health was only just emerging as an important public policy issue. The report could have reflected 25 years of leaps and bounds in our understanding of mental health. It could have proposed new and innovative ways to use technology and social media to identify threats and risks of firearm misuse. There could have been recommendations that prepared Tasmania for what future technologies may precipitate.
A report that recommends making Tasmania a world-leader and an evidence-based best-practice example for firearm laws would have required Tasmania to diverge, even temporarily, from the path of the National Firearms Agreement.
Instead, the report prioritises national uniformity above all else. This prioritising of national uniformity provides a fascinating insight into the psyche of Tasmania when it comes to the gun control debate.
It is clear that the National Firearms Agreement provides comfort and confidence that few are willing to risk.
It reflects that for many the wounds of a tragedy 23 years ago still feel as raw today as they were on that Sunday in April.
Yes, Tasmania needs to continue support for the National Firearms Agreement where it is in our interest to do so, but surely we have the maturity and courage to guide our own future. Tasmania, like all states, should be willing to deviate from the national norm when it is in the interest of Tasmanians to do so. This is precisely why the states, and not the Commonwealth, have the constitutional authority to create laws on the regulation of firearms. South Australia understood this principle when they created their new Firearms Act in 2015.
As the report highlights, there are areas for improvement in Tasmania's firearm laws.
One of my key submissions to the committee, which is noted in the report, is the need for our Firearms Act to state its purpose. Unlike other states, our Act does not have a section that expressly states that the purpose of firearms laws is to promote public safety. I argued that the safety of Tasmanians should come before national uniformity. The Act should say that its primary purpose is to promote public safety, and one subsidiary purpose is to promote national uniformity.
Where twenty-five years of research and evidence demonstrate a more effective, more balanced, or more efficient approach to firearm laws then Tasmania should be willing to depart from national uniformity in order to embrace these new approaches.
Sadly, adopting the recommendations of the report will stifle any future attempts to embrace new ideas and for Tasmania to lead through example. The allegiance to the National Firearms Agreement does not represent an unwillingness to embrace new ideas, but rather, the reality that for many Tasmanians the echoes of gunshots 25 years ago are still ringing in our ears today.
- Samuel Diprose Adams is a lawyer and Associate of the University of Tasmania who publishes on firearms policy and is quoted throughout in the report.