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NSW: Gun laws and anmesty in the firing line

By Eoin Blackwell
24 Dec 2008 9:29 AM

SYDNEY, Dec 23 AAP - Time goes very quickly when you're staring down the barrel of a gun.

It ran out too fast for Melissa Cook, who was fatally shot by her ex-husband John Kudrytch last week while she stood behind the counter of a BP service station in Casula, in Sydney's south-west.

In the following days, the NSW government announced it would hold a three-month gun amnesty next year to get illegal firearms off the streets.

But time was not on the government's side either: Ms Cook was murdered just two weeks after it came under fire for passing laws allowing people subject to expired apprehended violence orders (AVOs) to apply to have gun licences renewed.

While the laws were not responsible for Ms Cook's death - a two-month-old AVO was still in place against Kudrytch, who turned the gun on himself after killing his ex-wife - they've sent a chill through gun control advocacy groups.

Under the NSW Firearms Act 1996, a person's gun licence is automatically suspended or revoked when they become the subject of an AVO.

A few days before Ms Cook's murder, after a spate of drive-by shootings in Sydney, Premier Nathan Rees responded to criticism by saying he would review gun control laws to stop weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

National Gun Control Coalition co-ordinator Samantha Lee met with Mr Rees to discuss the changes.

"I didn't get the response I wanted. The response was they would look into the matter," she told AAP.

"It's one of those issues that you can't keep putting over to the next month or the month after.

"They can amend the legislation to weaken it in just a day (but) they have to go through this whole review process, you know, put it over for a few months. I mean, if the premier did want to do something he could do something today.

"The longer they wait the more people will get hurt."

The domestic violence amendment was written by the Shooters Party MLC Roy Smith.

He says the decade-long ban on AVO subjects from owning a gun was at its core unfair.

"It might be someone who eight years ago was involved in a domestic dispute or an unpleasant situation and an AVO was taken out," Mr Smith said.

"Since then, eight years have passed and they'd like to take up target shooting or maybe they'd like to become a security guard or maybe they want to go on the farm and control feral animals.

"And they can't if they have an AVO."

He said he wasn't surprised by the outcry the amendment sparked from anti-gun groups.

"This is the sort of reaction we expected from these people, because any changes to legislation that they deem to assist in the slightest a legitimate firearms owners, they're not interested in," he said

"Where you should be focusing is in illegal and unlicensed people - (anti-gun) people take an easy target and attack them for political purposes."

Throughout Australia, women are the most likely to be murdered as the result of a domestic dispute involving guns, with 31 per cent killed for no apparent reason, a 2007 study by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) found.

In the same period, 22 per cent of all homicides were classified as intimate partner homicides.

"The new amendments allow a person to go back to the courts and have that AVO revoked, even after it has expired," said Howard Brown, spokesman for the Victims of Crime Assistance League (VOCAL)

"If they have the AVO revoked, it means they never had that AVO in place.

"We have dealt with a number of cases where after the expiry of an AVO the person named then starts plotting how to get back at the person.

"Then he can go to a firearms registry and say I never had an AVO in the first place."

At this point, it isn't known whether Kudrytch had a licensed firearm.

NSW police won't comment except to say a report will be prepared for the coroner, while Police Minister Tony Kelly told reporters on Tuesday he wasn't aware if Kudrytch had a registered licence.

There are 687,138 legal guns on the NSW Firearms Registry, while the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) has recorded 800 stolen guns in the state in the past two years.

Since Ms Cook's murder, and after more than 15 drive-by shootings in three weeks, Mr Kelly announced a three-month amnesty on guns starting on March 1, 2009, in an effort to curb the number of illegal firearms in NSW.

It took Martin Bryant just over an hour to shoot dead 35 people at the Tasmanian historic site of Port Arthur in 1996.

Just 12 days later, then prime minister John Howard successfully bullied the nation's state governments into toughening their gun laws.

For the seven years after the NSW Firearms Act was created in 1996 and other state adopted new laws, firearm homicides in Australia dropped 65 per cent, BOCSAR statistics show.

In the decade before, there were 13 mass killings in Australia including the 1991 Strathfield massacre in Sydney.

Since Port Arthur, gun deaths had remained much lower and there had been no mass shootings, said Philip Alpers, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Sydney's School of Public Health.

While the Howard government's gun amnesty and buyback scheme saw 820,000 firearms destroyed, Prof Alpers could not see the NSW amnesty having much effect.

"It's one of the easiest solutions for a politician, to call an amnesty," Prof Alpers told AAP.

"Nobody pretends, even the police don't pretend, that they're bringing in the guns they want.

"The guns that they really want are the ones held by criminals, and if you're a criminal an illegal gun is the most valuable thing you can have."