New gun laws a game changer

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 29:  Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville launches Vic Pol's new campaign with the head of Police Graham Ashton on January 29, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Jesse Marlow/Fairfax Media)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 29: Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville launches Vic Pol's new campaign with the head of Police Graham Ashton on January 29, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Jesse Marlow/Fairfax Media)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 28: As part of Operation Resound, police from Echo Taskforce, the dog squad and and a large number of uniformed members of Victoria Police perform routine safety and criminal history checks on motorcyclists, including outlaw motorcycle members, and particularly bikies belonging to the Hells Angels, at a stop and search point set up on the Calder Highway south of Gisborne. (Photo by Paul Rovere/Fairfax Media)

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 28: As part of Operation Resound, police from Echo Taskforce, the dog squad and and a large number of uniformed members of Victoria Police perform routine safety and criminal history checks on motorcyclists, including outlaw motorcycle members, and particularly bikies belonging to the Hells Angels, at a stop and search point set up on the Calder Highway south of Gisborne. (Photo by Paul Rovere/Fairfax Media)

FILE--By tradition, the Godfather cannot refuse a request on his daughter's wedding day, and Bonasera, portrayed by Frank Puglia, asks Don Corleone, portrayed by Marlon Brando, at right, for a favor in this scene from the 1972 movie "The Godfather".  Best-selling author Mario Puzo, creator of the fictional Corleone mob family and winner of two Oscars for his screen adaptations of his book ``The Godfather,'' died Friday, July 2, 1999. He was 78. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures,file)

FILE--By tradition, the Godfather cannot refuse a request on his daughter's wedding day, and Bonasera, portrayed by Frank Puglia, asks Don Corleone, portrayed by Marlon Brando, at right, for a favor in this scene from the 1972 movie "The Godfather". Best-selling author Mario Puzo, creator of the fictional Corleone mob family and winner of two Oscars for his screen adaptations of his book ``The Godfather,'' died Friday, July 2, 1999. He was 78. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures,file)

Writing about government law-and-order policies is one of the easiest gigs in town. You simply bag the crap out of it, declare politicians should "get into the real world", judges live in "ivory towers" and the laws are drafted by Leninist-leaning lawyers who want to release cutlass-carrying psychos to attack us in our beds.

Yet every now again a piece of legislation comes along that can't be described as political correctness "gone mad" (Question: was it once sane or always a little odd before it went totally bananas?)*

Just the other day, Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville dropped a press release headed "New laws to target illegal guns, organised crime and drive-by shootings".

In the release the minister channelled Clint Eastwood, declaring: "Let this be a warning to organised crime figures and those that associate with organised crime figures - we are coming for you."

We are all used to the spin doctors talking big and delivering little. After all, last year the state government bragged about its tough unlawful associations laws, claiming they would result in an "unprecedented crackdown" on organised crime.

That law turned out to be a bigger lemon than the Hindenburg and not one person has been charged, jailed, fined or even sent to the naughty corner as a result.

But make no mistake, the Firearms Amendment Bill 2017 is a game changer.

In the scheme of things this could be the biggest initiative taken in the investigation of serious violent crime since state police were given the power to tap telephones in 1988.

For the first time police will be given serious muscle to deal with the massive problem of crooks carrying guns. The proposed law has the potential to jail thousands (that's right, we are talking nearly 3000) real and wannabe gangsters who think deadly weapons are fashion accessories.

One of the most important initiatives in the firearms laws is the introduction of prohibition orders that will ban declared individuals from possessing guns. So what's the difference, you may ask, as convicted crooks are not allowed to (legally) own firearms.

Under the new laws, the chief commissioner and more than 20 designated senior officers have the power to slap a prohibition order on an individual if they are considered a danger to the community.

This could be based on criminal records, associations, intelligence, information or behaviour. So if you carry on like a gangster, you will be treated like one, and if you have a history of violence or hang around gangs you will be hit with an order.

It will work in a similar way to the chief commissioner's power to ban certain criminals and "identities" from racetracks and casinos.

For more than two years, police have wanted this sort of reform and have been quietly gathering intelligence on a series of likely targets.

These include outlaw motorcycle gang members, Middle Eastern crime groups, mafioso identities, terror suspects and assorted no-neck types used by every drug dealer who has Scarface on high rotation in their home cinema.

Right now we are running at more than one non-fatal shooting every week (68 last year and 46 so far this year). Mostly they are gang-related and often it is a reminder to the victim that they have failed to pay a drug debt. (Dealers rarely send clients a note to inform them they have fallen into arrears.)

Police call the victims "cockroaches", as no matter how or where they are shot, they survive - although their memories don't, as they inevitably tell police that they have no idea what happened.

At present when police find an illegal gun at a crook's home, the offender will inevitably argue that someone else left it there. And even when charged with possessing an illegal firearm, they rarely if ever end up doing jail time for the offence.

Under the new laws the penalty for a prohibited person being found with a gun is 10 years. "Finally there will be serious consequences if the law is supported in the courts," according to one veteran investigator.

When police do lay the first charges it will be against someone with a filthy criminal record, to encourage the court to sentence at the upper end and set a high precedent for future cases.

Not only will it make it tough for those subjected to a prohibition order, it has the potential to fracture large criminal organisations. Police can search anyone named on an order, their car or premises and anyone with them they suspect has a gun. And if they find drugs or other criminal paraphernalia, it is game on.

The new law has the potential to fracture large criminal organisations that Victoria Police has been wrestling with for years.

The new law has the potential to fracture large criminal organisations that Victoria Police has been wrestling with for years. Photo: Natalie Valenzuela

So if police ban one Hell's Angel, they can search them, the clubhouse and every other member there without a search warrant. This is the law enforcement equivalent of tying a time bomb to a homing pigeon.

This means police will be able to enter a bikie clubhouse as regularly as cosmetic surgeons make house calls to the Playboy Mansion.

A crook with a prohibition order will be toxic to the rest of the gang, because he or she can be searched at any time. This should result in that crook being shunned by the syndicate as the sheep with a bell that attracts the wolf.

The order bans the subject from being anywhere firearms are kept and they are prohibited from even playing a game of paintball.

As notorious crooks are released from prison they will be greeted by detectives with prohibition orders and informed they can be stopped and searched at any time. Former Bandido Toby Mitchell can expect such a greeting party when he is released from prison in November, if the law is passed in time.

This will mean the leaders of syndicates will avoid carrying guns and use disposable soldiers as weapon carriers. The smart crooks will carry a briefcase rather than a holster and the dumb ones will go to jail.

Former Bandidos sergeant-at-arms Toby Mitchell is certain to be the subject of a firearms prohibition order.

Former Bandidos sergeant-at-arms Toby Mitchell is certain to be the subject of a firearms prohibition order. Photo: Wayne Taylor

While the purpose of the law is to target serious criminals, it could be used as a pre-emptive strike against erratic partners involved in family violence. The plan is simple: jail them before they have a chance to shoot someone.

The new laws include the offence of committing a drive-by shooting, with a maximum penalty of 15 years for firing at a building or vehicle with "reckless disregard" to safety.

This is not just paper talk - there have been two homicides in recent years where people have been killed by stray bullets in drive-bys.

The penalty jumps to 20 years if the shooting is committed while the offender is carrying out a serious indictable offence.

This is a direct response to one case which showed the law as it now exists is a joke. In 2015, two career criminals shot Constable Ben Ashmole in the head - an attack that would have been murder if not for the policeman's quick reflexes (he ducked at the crucial moment).

Sam Liszczak was charged after the shooting of police officer Ben Ashmole.

Sam Liszczak was charged after the shooting of police officer Ben Ashmole. Photo: Supplied

The crooks, Sam Liszczak and Rod Phillips, had firebombed several houses as part of a vendetta against dead drug boss Carl Williams' father, George, as well as Carl's ex-wife Roberta.

When they saw Ashmole following in a marked police car they did a U-turn and fired a shotgun at him from five metres. He ducked, and even though the headrest took the brunt of the blast he was still hit with 14 pellets, 11 of which remain embedded in his skull.

While they were charged with attempted murder they were allowed to plea bargain down to the offence of recklessly causing injury, which carried a maximum of five years (they were sentenced to four years with a touch more for the arsons).

Under the changes they would be charged with the drive-by offence and as it was done while committing an indictable offence would have faced a maximum of 20 years. "I would think they would get 15 years at least," one senior investigator says.

Police are certain offenders like Rodney Phillips would incur stiffer sentences under the new law.

Police are certain offenders like Rodney Phillips would incur stiffer sentences under the new law. Photo: Supplied

The new law gets rid of the need to prove the offender intended to cause serious injury in such cases. In another clause, if you fire a shot in a public space and don't hit anyone you still face 10 years in prison.

Finally crooks who think guns are a necessary tool of the trade will be called to account. While the initiative will not turn bloody bikie wars into pillow fights, it should reduce guns on our streets, and the knuckleheads who insist on carrying firearms will soon learn that instead of (literally) shooting someone in the leg they will be (metaphorically) shooting themselves in the foot.

And so if Lisa Neville wants a new challenge, how about fixing our pathetic DNA laws so that anyone charged with an indictable offence is subjected to a mouth swab that can be tested against the 11,000 unsolved crimes where samples have been collected?

This would bring Victoria into line with the national standard and solve thousands of crimes. After all, catching the guilty has to be a good thing and there may be a few votes in it as well.

* Actually it is politically incorrect to say political correctness has gone mad. It should be said that political correctness is dealing with a personal crisis and will recover fully after completing a meditation and colon-cleansing course in the Hinterland.

This story New gun laws a game changer first appeared on The Age.