Gun lobby on target again as law softened

THE state government has watered down a law Barry O'Farrell trumpeted as a ''crackdown'' on bikies and Sydney's drive-by shooting epidemic.

In the face of bitter opposition from hunting and shooting advocates and National Party MPs within its own ranks, the government has stepped away from the full implementation of the Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill.

Fairfax Media has learnt the law will take effect on March 4 next year - more than a year after it was introduced to Parliament - but will now only apply to handguns.

Police had wanted the full law implemented by November, documents show.

The intention was that all ammunition sold in NSW would have to be accounted for and that only the person holding the licence for a gun could buy bullets for that weapon.

Police said it would help trace bullets used in shootings.

The legislation led to a near-mutiny among National Party MPs, under pressure from farming constituents who complained the proposed law would be too onerous in terms of paperwork and farmers would no longer be able to pick up a box of bullets for neighbours and friends when they go to town.

Government sources said long arms will now be exempted from the law, at least until the Police Firearms Registry has conducted a survey into whether a ''swipe card'' system of licences could be established to make life easier for rifle and shotgun owners and gun dealers.

The ammunition bill has sat on the shelf since it passed Parliament in May amid outrage at gang-related shootings across Sydney.

The law has the assent of the governor but remains on the list of ''unproclaimed'' legislation - laws that have not come into effect - without any explanation.

At the centre of the decision-making process is the the controversial Firearms Consultative Committee. As revealed on Thursday, the committee stymied attempts to tighten gun controls. In October, the Police Minister, Mike Gallacher, agreed to ''discard'' an original set of regulations to update the Firearms Regulation Act after the committee rejected the police's proposal.

As the government talked up its ''tough on guns'' credentials on Thursday, evidence emerged in minutes of its meetings, obtained under freedom of information laws by the Greens, that the committee tried to stall the new law's progress.

Committee member Paul Duffy of the Antique Arms Collectors Society, said the committee was expecting a fresh set of less onerous regulations from the government soon.

Mr Gallacher's office declined to comment on the reasons for the backdown.

Rebecca Peters, a gun control advocate and one-time member of the firearms committee under Labor, said the government had left a ''massive loophole'' in gun control. ''The government has abandoned any commitment to safety to curry favour with the Shooters,'' she said.

Members on the Firearms Consultative Committee ... from left, Robert Borsak, Ken Finch, John Fitzgerald and Paul Duffy

Members on the Firearms Consultative Committee ... from left, Robert Borsak, Ken Finch, John Fitzgerald and Paul Duffy


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