Australia

'Like the RSPCA': Australia's gun lobby hits back at criticism

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A new report has examined the power and political strategies employed by Australia's gun lobby.

A peak gun lobby says it has an important place in Australian democracy, in the wake of a scathing report about its activities.

The report, released Wednesday by progressive think tank The Australia Institute, found pro-gun groups have donated $1.7 million to political parties since 2011, on top of contributions to election campaigns. 

It accused such groups of using their influence to subvert the will of the majority of Australians to maintain strict gun laws introduced after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

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One Nation sought $20 million donations from supporters of US gun lobby NRA
One Nation sought $20 million donations from supporters of US gun lobby NRA

'A right to talk' to politicians 

But CEO of the Sporting Shooters' Association of Australia (SSAA) Tim Bannister told SBS News that the report, commissioned by Gun Control Australia and Getup! was "irrationally fearful".

"We've been around for more than 70 years, we haven't sprung out of nowhere. We are a membership organisation, just the same as the RSPCA is a membership organisation ...  Of course we have a right to talk to legislators and regulators."

Australia's gun lobby represents almost the same level of political clout, according to a new report.
Australia's gun lobby represents almost the same level of political clout, according to a new report.
AAP

"We're trying to improve gun laws so they have a framework for sensible regulation, not overburdening legislation that adversely affects the lawful man and woman who want to take part in our sport."

He said his group wants political parties to know the "difference between legal and illegal firearm use".

"The terrible events of Christchurch were terrorism. Not that long ago there was a terrible event in Nice, France, in which 86 people were killed by a truck. We need politicians not too think to much about the tool but about but about the person," he said.

A powerful voice

The report stated Australia’s gun lobby is "large, well-resourced and tightly knit".

Bob Katter's Australia Party was the biggest beneficiary, receiving more than $800,000 in the past seven years, according to the report.

Report author Bill Browne called for a ban on donations by pro-gun groups.

Bob Katter has described himself as "unashamedly a gun man".
Bob Katter has described himself as "unashamedly a gun man".
YouTube

"The defiance of the popular will on gun control can be attributed in part to the deep pockets of Australia's gun lobby, which has a much lower profile than the NRA — despite Australia's gun lobby spending similar amounts on political campaigns," he said.

Boasting 200,000 members, the SSAA represents 0.8 per cent of the population, according to the Australia Institute.

That compares to the NRA's 4 million members, the equivalent of about 1.1 per cent of the US population. 

"Australians are probably more familiar with the NRA than Australia’s equivalents, even though relative to population Australia’s gun lobby is of a similar size and funding to the NRA," the report states.

However, to own a firearm in most states, shooters are required to undergo safety training with the SSAA or a similar organisation. Additionally, most shooters who list "target shooting" as their reason for requiring a Firearms Licence, join the association because it can provide the relevant supporting documentation.

Mr Browne wrote that many gun advocates target crossbenchers sympathetic to their cause and leave guns out of its advertising material.  

Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie is the chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting group.
Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie is the chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting group.
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"The strategy of the firearms industry running political campaigns that do not mention guns is an import from the United States, where it has been used extensively by the NRA," he said.

The release of the report comes after explosive revelations that One Nation operatives flew to Washington to meet with NRA officials. 

Secretly recorded footage revealed Senator Pauline Hanson's chief of staff James Ashby and Queensland leader Steve Dickson hoped to secure tens of millions of dollars and discussed strategies to weaken Australia's gun laws. 

The SSAA's Mr Bannister said he was "flabbergasted" at the actions of the duo.

"We could have saved One Nation a lot of time and money if they had talked to us [first] … The NRA is not interested in handing out a dollar to a political party in Australia," he said.

Shooting outings for politicians

The report also calls for the names of politicians involved in the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting group to be made public. 

The gun lobby has sponsored shooting events in Canberra for politicians and journalists, including a "festive Christmas shoot" in December 2017. 

Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie is the chair of the group and the deputy is Labor MP Anthony Byrne, but other members are not publicly listed. 

Members of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting at an event in 2018.
Members of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting at an event in 2018.
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Various politicians have appeared in photos from shooting events posted to social media, including Labor MP Brian Mithell and former Liberal Democrats' David Leyonhjelm.

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