A new report published by The Australia Institute, a progressive think tank, warns that relative to each country’s population, Australia’s gun lobby is “of similar size and funding” to America’s notorious National Rifle Association (NRA).
Yes, that’s the same NRA One Nation’s James Ashby and Steve Dickson met with in video taken by an undercover Al Jazeera journalist, sparking yesterday’s political furore.
RELATED: Undercover video exposes One Nation
The Australia Institute’s report, Point Blank: Political Strategies of Australia’s gun lobby, was commissioned by Gun Control Australia with contributions from the left-wing activist group GetUp!.
It argues “the public will on firearms” is being circumvented by firearm interest groups, which have made a “concerted effort” to undermine Australia’s gun laws and loosen gun controls at the state level.
“These groups include firearms suppliers and their peak bodies, members’ associations like shooting and hunting clubs, and gun advocates who operate more informally,” the report says.
“Either operating independently or together, these organisations have made significant political donations, run campaigns to influence voters and encouraged the election of pro-gun crossbenchers.”
What exactly is the “public will” on guns?
In general, Australians remain overwhelmingly supportive of the laws implemented by John Howard in the wake of the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996.
In polling published last year, Essential Research found just 7 per cent of Australians thought the country’s gun laws were too strict, compared to 62 per cent who felt they were “about right” and a further quarter who said they were too weak.
In the face of that near consensus, the report says Australia’s gun industry focuses on boosting minor parties, such as Katter’s Australia Party and the Shooters, Fisher and Farmers Party.
The Shooters did particularly well in Saturday’s New South Wales election, taking multiple seats off the Nationals.
And until recently, pro-gun Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm wielded significant influence in the federal parliament as a key crossbencher.
His attempts to end a ban on the importation of lever action shotguns with a high magazine capacity resulted in a row with the government when Malcolm Turnbull banned the Adler 110 gun outright.
Mr Leyonhjelm felt he had been “dudded” on a deal he had made with the government in return for his vote.
RELATED: ‘Guns for votes’ deal goes bad
The NRA is openly political in the United States, where it actively supports pro-gun candidates — usually in the conservative Republican Party — and campaigns against those who support stricter gun laws.
Speaking yesterday, Mr Ashby and Mr Dickson said they travelled to America in part to learn from the NRA’s political campaign techniques, such as robocalling, text messaging streams and live phone calls.
They felt One Nation could use the insights to improve its own campaigns.
The NRA’s high profile spokeswoman Dana Loesch frequently appears on national television. The organisation even broadcasts its own TV channel, with live commentary shows and gun documentaries.
The Australian gun lobby is far more subtle, but according to The Australia Institute, no less willing to pour money into political campaigns.
“The Australian gun lobby runs political campaigns and lobbies politicians and journalists, but it attracts little attention in Australia because it keeps its operations low key,” the report says.
“Gun lobby political advertising in recent years has mostly avoided mentioning firearms or gun control at all.”
It highlights the activities of the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia (SIFA), the peak body for Australia’s five largest firearms suppliers.
The report says SIFA spends “roughly the same amount of money” per person on political campaigning as the NRA. SIFA spends an average of $30,120 per million Australians, compared to the NRA’s $28,106 per million Americans.
It ran major ad campaigns ahead of the 2017 Queensland state election and the Victorian election last year.
“Many Australians would be surprised to learn that the Australian gun lobby is just as large in Australia as the US gun lobby is when compared on a per capita basis,” said Bill Browne, a researcher at The Australia Institute.
“An NRA style gun lobby is flourishing in Australia. It has deep pockets, extensive networks and parliamentary representation,” added Sam Lee, the president of Gun Control Australia.
“Like the NRA, the aim of the Australian gun lobby is to dismantle our gun laws. Gun laws that have kept Australians safe for decades.
“The lobby includes gun manufacturers and importers for whom guns are big business. For them, strong gun laws are bad for business. To put it simply, if you weaken gun laws, you can sell more guns.”
The report calls for political parties to rule out accepting donations from the gun lobby, comparing it to the tobacco industry.
A spokeswoman for SIFA, Laura Patterson, told news.com.au the Australia Institute had produced a “piss poor report” that was “wrong and misleading”.
“SIFA has never advocated for the watering down of the firearms laws, quite the opposite. We’ve said time and time again that we’re committed to working within the existing framework,” Ms Patterson said.
She said SIFA had earned the trust of Australians over a period of 20 years, and rejected the parallels drawn between the Australian gun lobby and the NRA.
In reference to the state election ad campaigns, Ms Patterson said SIFA had been “open, honest and upfront”.
“SIFA did run an advertising campaign during the Victorian state election. The ads were designed absolutely to sit within the guidelines and at the end of every ad, every single print ad, and every billboard. was the SIFA logo and the words: ‘Proudly supported by the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia’,” she said.
She brushed off the report’s recommendation that politicians stop accepting donations from the gun lobby, saying SIFA had already started to move away from making political donations.
“What we won’t do is stop holding politicians accountable for the decisions they make,” she said.
One of those decisions, she said, was the failure to follow up on a promise to introduce a National Firearms Management System.
“For 20 years, successive governments have failed to uphold their promise that they made in 1996 and 2017 to introduce a National Firearms Management System that will enable law enforcement across Australia access to real time, decision critical, quality firearms data.”