Lever-action shotgun claims just pulp fiction

The controversy about whether Australia should allow the importation of the Adler A110 lever-action shotgun has certainly delivered some over-the-top political theatre. 

Loaded argument: Has Australia’s fixation with gun control come at the expense of gun violence control?

Loaded argument: Has Australia’s fixation with gun control come at the expense of gun violence control?

If you believe hyperventilating sectors of the media, the Adler is a newly invented death machine. If you believe some politicians’ rhetoric, allowing the Adler into the country dramatically waters down Australia’s 1996 gun laws.

This sounds ominous. But is any of it true? The Adler has been incorrectly described as “new” or “advanced” technology. In fact, lever-action shotguns have been around for well over a century. The Adler looks modern on the outside, but on the inside there is nothing new. The most contentious feature of the gun, and the reason for the parliamentary angst, is its magazine – the part of a gun that holds extra ammunition. Again, this is nothing new. Various models of lever-action shotgun with magazine capacities of five or more rounds have been on the market in Australia for decades.

Claims the Adler A110 somehow weakens Australian gun laws are pure fiction. 

Lever-action shotguns have always been permitted in Australia. For the past 20 years, they have been available to “Category A” firearm licence-holders.

Some say this is the “easiest” category for obtaining firearms, making it sound as if someone can instantly get a licence and go out and buy a gun. The truth is more complex. A Category A firearm licence authorises a person to possess “rimfire” rifles (the .22, or “rabbit gun”) that are not semi-automatic, and shotguns that are not semi-automatic or pump-action.

To obtain a licence, a person must be over 18 years of age, complete approved safety training, and prove they have a genuine reason for owning firearms.

A person must be “fit and proper”. The standards rule out anyone with a history of, for example, violence, illicit drug use, misuse of weapons, or other criminal activities. It is mandatory for police to conduct background checks into licence applicants. 

It is an offence to provide false or misleading information. A 28-day waiting period applies before a licence will be issued.

If a person is approved to hold a Category A licence, and wants to purchase a firearm, they must apply to police for an individual “Permit to Acquire” for each gun they want to own (and pay a fee). All sales must occur through a licensed firearms dealer, and all firearms must be registered with state authorities. Guns must be locked in a safe when not in use.

The hyperbole about the Adler simply does not match the facts. This is symptomatic of the generally poor quality of debate around firearm policy in Australia.

Australia’s fixation with gun control has come at the expense of gun violence control. Gun control is easy. Gun violence control is difficult. It goes far beyond law and order, encompassing complex elements of human society and behaviour. Tackling gun violence takes evidence-based and collaborative efforts that adopt a whole-of-community perspective. It needs long-term thinking and commitment.

Canada, the UK, and even the US have all implemented effective gun violence reduction programs. Australia has a lot of catching up to do. But it seems our politicians would rather keep shouting at each other about old guns than talk seriously about new approaches to improving public safety.

  • Samara McPhedran is Senior Research Fellow, Violence Research and Prevention Program, Griffith University.