Australia's Anti-Gun Lobby Turns its Sights on Sports Shooters

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Not satisfied with their government's proposals to ban ownership of semi-automatic handguns among the wider public, Australian anti-gun campaigners are now calling for sports shooters to give up their semi-automatics, too.

The National Coalition for Gun Control (NCGC) said Australian shooters who participate in the Olympic Games and other international competitions should forego participation in specific events in which semi-automatic handguns are used.

As long as Australians continued to take part in those events and possess those weapons, there was a danger of them "getting into the wrong hands" and possibly being used in a mass shooting, NCGC co-chair Roland Browne said Thursday.

He cited shootings in Scotland in 1996, in Germany last April, and in Australia last October, in which the three killers used semi-automatic firearms.

Ownership of semi-automatic rifles in Australia has been restricted since 1996, following an earlier mass shooting in which 35 people were killed.

But after last year's incident in Australia - two university students in Melbourne were shot dead by another student, a licensed gun owner - federal and state authorities proposed widening the ban to include categories of handguns not used in recognized sporting events.

It's because of these proposals that Browne's organization wants to see Australian sportsmen stop competing altogether in events in which semi-automatic handguns - as opposed to single-shot weapons - are used.

"We shouldn't let the fact that there's an Olympic event [using semi-automatics] dictate public safety," he said.

"If we ran that argument to its limits, then if the Olympics decided to hold an event involving Bazookas, we'd have Bazookas on the streets or in civilian hands. It's just absurd."

Australian Shooting Association executive director Nick Sullivan dismissed Browne's call Thursday.

Speaking from South Australia, he said semi-automatic handguns were used in two Olympic events - the 25 meter pistol event for men and women - and in a handful of events in the Commonwealth Games and World Championships.

"Are we prepared to give up these events? No we're not," he said.

Australian shooters are generally in the top 10 in Olympic events, and lead the field in the Commonwealth Games, a four-yearly event involving Britain and more than 70 of its former colonies. The next Commonwealth Games will be in Australia, in 2006.

Sullivan explained that semi-automatic pistols were used for target shooting because they have a low center of gravity and the recoil factor is much lower, giving a better recovery time between shots.

Australian gun-control groups have accused sports shooters of being selfish, putting their interests above those of wider society.

Sullivan denied that the shooters were selfish.

"The selfish attitude comes from a minority group who insist on trying to rule the world. I think it's time governments stood up and said, 'Enough of the minority; we're actually governing for the majority.'

"It's a legitimate sport," he said. "Indeed, the Olympic Games were founded on these sports. Baron de Coubertin [the founder of the modern Olympic movement in the late century] was a shooter."

Sullivan said sports shooters were "an easy target" for the National Coalition for Gun Control.

"It's easy to pick on something seen as threatening, I guess."

If the lobby group was serious about ensuring the safety of society, it should turn its attention instead to the judicial system, and call for tougher penalties for offenders, he said.

"That's the sort of thing they should be putting their effort and time into."

He also accused Browne of spreading misinformation about sports shooting.

"You could almost compare him to the Iraqi information minister," he remarked.

Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf has become an almost comical figure in Baghdad, where this week he steadfastly denied the presence of American forces, even as tank rolled through the capital's streets.

See earlier stories:
Planned Handgun Restrictions Alarm Australian Gun-Owners (Nov. 6 2002)
Shooting Prompts Appeals For Handgun Ban (Oct. 22, 2002)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow