Major Overhaul to NSW Firearm Regulations

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The NSW Police are planning a major overhaul of firearms regulations after the John Edwards family shooting that took place in July 2018. 

Shooters who fail to declare serious mental health issues will be weeded out and family law court proceedings taken into account when ruling on gun licence applications under the biggest-ever overhaul of NSW firearm regulations.

In a bid to stop potential “red flags” going unheeded, doctors will also be encouraged to be more proactive about reporting patients who own guns and show signs of risky behaviour.

The changes are part of historic reforms being introduced by Superintendent Anthony Bell, who ­became the new boss of the NSW Firearms Registry late last year. 

In his first interview in his new job, Supt Bell declared: “It’s about making sure people who shouldn’t have access to firearms don’t.”

The Daily Telegraph reported 

Among his reforms is appointing senior adjudicators to deal with “grey area” firearm licence applications or renewals. That includes ­determining if a person’s mental health or family law court matters makes them unfit to own a gun.

In the past, such applications have not been treated differently to more straightforward decisions, such as mandatory refusals for those who have been subject to an AVO in the previous decade. Now they will be triaged. 

While a person could be fit and healthy when they first acquire a gun licence, Supt Bell said circumstances can change quickly.

“Something could happen in their life right now and they just go off the rails,” he said. “You have to mitigate that risk. These comprehensive reforms are aimed at ensuring community safety.”

As it stands, the onus is on firearm holders to self-declare any mental health issues.

Already, the registry receives daily alerts when a licence holder is charged with an offence or scheduled for a mental health assessment in hospital.

An Attorney General’s Department spokeswoman said government agencies were working on “necessary actions to ensure that family law personal protection injunctions are enforceable by state and territory police”.

Mental health experts will begin to train adjudicators while police will begin a campaign targeting the Australian Medical Association and mental health organisations.

While doctors are protected from prosecution for breaching confidentiality in reporting firearm risks, the NSW Firearms Registry rarely receives reports from doctors.

Supt Bell said “post-Edwards” the registry also ran a campaign encouraging clubs to report suspicious behaviour, and gun licences had been revoked as a result.

Firearm Owners United pointed out that the problem here is “mental health” is a vague term in itself. There’s a difference between a fully functioning adult with a mild bout of managed anxiety or depression, which would also realistically rule out a lot of serving Police, to a full-blown schizophrenic who likely should be institutionalised. Who defines what is a precluding condition?

 

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