While I love many things about America, such as its cars, the price of clothes and food, its sporting teams (except the LA Lakers) and its general all-round can-do attitude, I hate the fact that guns are so easily available. And not just available, they are an entrenched and Supreme Court protected constitutional right, right up there with freedom of speech and the right not to be a slave (other than to love).
Since 1996 and the Port Arthur Massacre, and the almost immediate (and, interestingly, bipartisan) political move to ban almost all firearms in Australia, gun related murders in our country fell by 59% and the rate of suicide by firearms rate fell by 65%.
The move to ban guns in Australia was controversial, with many supporters of gun ownership in Australia relying on the favourite American argument in favour of the right to carry a firearm – self-defence.
In some respects, I get this. Everyone wants to feel safe, and to be able to protect their friends and family when the situation requires it. I am sure everyone reading this can think of at least one time when they felt unsafe on the streets or in their home, and I am also sure that too many of you have actually experienced violence first-hand.
The idea of protecting yourself and others from a violent attack is, in my view, core to the debate on the right to carry a weapon. I am not ashamed to admit that, on many occasions, I have considered carrying something, anything, when I am out late at night on a weekend with my partner in the Sydney CBD. I am very conscious of everyone around me at these times, and believe that if I had to, I would use whatever I had at hand to defend myself and my loved one from an attack.
Similarly, I would not hesitate to grab whatever was at hand to defend myself, my partner and our kitty (maybe) if some unknown person broke into our home. Sure, it was most likely be my dirty underwear or my giant Totoro plush doll, but I also know that if I could legally obtain and use one, I would be just as likely to grab a metal baton, a sword or (and I feel dirty saying this ) a gun.
Luckily, the laws of New South Wales, and all other States and Territories (with some differences) of Australia protect me from myself, by making it illegal for all people in Australia to carry almost any type of weapon or device that can be used as a weapon.
So what can we carry to protect ourselves, and what is illegal?
What is a weapon?
Hey, glad you asked. Well, actually no I am not. Why do you want to know what a weapon is? What do you plan to do with it? Oh, you are asking for ‘educational purposes’ only? Then that’s OK, and suddenly this article has a noble purpose of telling the reader why carrying weaponry is naughty.
Breaking it down, there are different categories of weapons:
- Prohibited weapons – these are specific items that the law says are illegal and are created solely to hurt another person. Guns, grenades, tasers and similar devices all fit into this category. Seen something used in a buddy cop movie to kill another person? Yep, that’s a prohibited weapon.
- Offensive weapons – these are things that are not illegal weapons as such, but with a bit of creative thinking and the right can-do attitude can be used as a weapon. We’re talking golf clubs, baseball bats, canes, iron bars, or big bits of wood, where the reason you’re carrying and using them is contrary to their intended purpose.
- Improvised weapons – these take some real lateral thinking. It is an everyday item that you use to commit violence on another. So your LV handbag, while beautiful, can quickly become an improvised weapon if you use it to beat on hordes of paparazzi desperate to take your photograph.
- Adaptive improvised weapons – these are almost identical to improvised weapons, however generally you’ve obtained some training to make an everyday object into an instrument of destruction. So some people have learnt how to use credit cards, belts, watches, pens and so on as weapons, in a deliberate and premeditated way. These are people not to mess with.
Prohibited weapons – The Naughty List
In New South Wales, the Weapons Prohibition Act has a handy, and scarily descriptive, schedule that sets out everything that a prohibited weapon. It is sobering to think that the reason items have been included in this list is because someone has used them to inflict harm on another person at some point in the past.
The list includes:
- guns, cannons and ‘military style weapons’ – no surprises there
- every kind of knife you can think of, and some I didn’t even know existed such as an ‘Urban Skinner’, which is apparently a blade or spike that has a handle fitted transversely to the blade or spike and allows the blade or spike to be supported by the palm of the hand so that stabbing blows or slashes can be inflicted by a punching or pushing action – wow, humans’ ability to create hideous weapons never ceases to amaze me
- blowguns, spear guns beyond a certain length and devices that fire toxic gas at people
- whips, martial arts weaponry, extendable and fixed batons, slingshots, tasers, brass knuckles, and something called a ‘sap glove’, which is a glove with bits of lead or metal sewn into the knuckle areas
- pepper and capsicum sprays, and other devices such as torches or flares that are designed to disorientate or blind someone
- any item that is designed to look innocent, but has a hidden weapon built into it, like pens that have a push out blade or walking sticks that have a sword hidden within them
- body armour of all types
The reality is that almost everything we carry could, in some way, be used as a weapon or fashioned into a weapon if someone really set their mind to it.
So does that mean we can’t carry anything that might, in one way or another, be capable of being used as a weapon or in self-defence?
What can you use (but never should)?
In my bag right now, I have a phone, my wallet, and (please don’t laugh) a skipping rope that I used at the gym on the weekend. If attacked, I could legally use that skipping rope to defend myself (an improvised weapon), although furiously skipping on the spot, or even asking my assailants to hold each end while we do a jump-rope song (Charlie Chaplin went to France / To teach the ladies how to dance / First he did the Rumba / Then he did the twist / Then he did the Highland Fling / And then he did the splits) is probably not going to do very much.
So I could swing the rope at my attackers while slowly backing away, which is a reasonable response to being attacked and, all other things being equal, probably legal. This is because I’m using it in a reasonable manner to defend myself against a real threat.
Now, if I took that same rope, wrapped it around my attacker’s neck, and proceeded to slowly and pleasurably asphyxiate them, I would be (a) crazy (b) acting completely unreasonably and (c) using an improvised weapon in an illegal way. Quite rightly, I would most likely face criminal sanctions.
It’s probably not a great idea for me to give you too many ideas, but to take just one more example, spraying deodorant in an attacker’s face when they come at you with a knife is probably going to be seen as a reasonable means of self defence using an improvised weapon. Using your cigarette lighter to make a portable flamethrower with the same deodorant can to defend yourself is well outside a reasonable response and you’ll be subject to criminal proceedings.
This article deserves a bit of a final disclaimer. This is general information only, OK? It does not replace advice from a qualified lawyer. Weapons are bad, and you should not try and hurt another person, creature, plant or inanimate object. Be nice to each other, hug your loved ones and just stay out of the way of everyone else. Stay safe, be alert, and call your mum.