Should Family Court Case have disqualified Dad from gun licence?


Last Thursday, John Edwards, a 68-year-old estranged husband and father murdered his two children. Edwards was later found dead at the old family home having turned the gun on himself; the ultimate unconscionable act of cowardly, selfish and utterly dreadful revenge designed to torment his ex-wife for the rest of her life.

Police reported they arrived at an horrific scene and emergency medical services were unable to do anything to save the teens found huddled together in a bedroom. They say it was a ‘premeditated and planned attack’ by their father John Edwards.


Gun licence initially refused

In an article over the weekend, The Sydney Morning Herald reported an official from the Ku-Ring-Gai Pistols Club told Fairfax Media that the NSW Firearms Registry informed the club in January of last year that John Edwards should not be given access to a firearm under any circumstances.

It was reported club official said Edwards enquired about membership of the Ku-Ring-Gai club in December 2016. He filled in the mandatory P650 form. Two of the questions on the form asks if the prospective applicant has been convicted of firearms or domestic violence-related crimes over the past 10 years.

The form is then passed onto the Firearms Registry, a section of the NSW Police Force, which has the final say on whether a licence is granted. They advised that Edwards should not be given access to a gun. 

Despite this refusal, earlier this year Edwards successfully joined the St Mary’s Indoor Shooting Centre where he obtained a firearms licence and permit before legally buying his weapons.

St Mary's club issued a statement saying the application was assessed and processed in strict accordance with the legal requirements overseen by the NSW Police Firearms Registry. "Ultimately, all licence decisions are taken by the Registry."

This is the very same registry that previously advised the Ku-Ring-Gai Pistols Club that Edwards should not be given access to a firearm under any circumstances.

These tragic and cowardly murders point very clearly to a flaw in the current assessment and recording system.


A history of violence

Fairfax Media reported that, while there were no apprehended violence orders in place against Mr Edwards at the time of the murder-suicide, meaning he could lawfully obtain the two "powerful" handguns he used to end his children's lives, he had previously been the subject of an AVO.

Interviewed neighbours and friends painted a picture of the father as reclusive, anti-social and witnessing him being unacceptably violent towards his son.

“Poor Jack probably copped the brunt of it ... he never had a kind word for those kids, he was very harsh,” a neighbour who did not want to be identified apparently told a Sydney Morning Herald reporter.

Based on unsubstantiated reports, a child who knew the son, Jack, said the family had moved to Pennant Hills because the mother and children feared the father and didn’t want him to know where they lived. It has also been reported that Edwards arrived at the house in a hire car, so the children would not know it was him before they opened the door to him, further adding to the theory that they feared him.


Family Court involvement

Olga Edwards and her ex-husband had been involved in a custody case in the Family Court for about two years, which ended with him being denied access to his two children. They lived full-time with their mother in the Hull Road address where they died.

While I can understand and empathise with the frustration and despair of a parent alienated from their children, be it because of false allegations, actions which have been taken out of context and overexaggerated or even when it's a result of their own errant behaviour but I cannot accept it as an excuse or reason for violence and murder. Absolutely no decision of the Family Court, no matter how imperfect it is, can justify any violence from any man or woman.

Perhaps the mother and the court had insight into the potential for this man to resort to violence. If so, the murder of his own children has proven the mother’s point in a manner more painful than I can even begin to comprehend.


Flaws in our gun licencing processing

These heinous murders beg the question now as to why the 68-year-old financial services worker, whose estranged family were allegedly fearful of him, was able to attain a gun licence and legally buy several ‘quite powerful’ firearms.

Samantha Lee, a spokeswoman for Gun Control Australia, which lobbies for tougher gun laws, said semi-automatic handguns should be outlawed.

Rosie Batty, whose son Luke was murdered by his father in 2014, spoke on this tragic episode and said: “any history of domestic violence should automatically and permanently preclude someone from obtaining a gun licence and permit.”

She said there was good evidence that men who committed domestic violence re-offend many years after their original crimes. 

The process for obtaining a licence and ownership permits usually takes at least seven months even if an application went quickly and smoothly through the regulatory system.

Prospective handgun owners must first get a general firearms licence having demonstrated to police a genuine need for a gun. It is difficult to imagine what that genuine need could have been for Edwards.

"A 68-year-old suburban financial adviser suddenly wants guns because he has taken up a new hobby?" asked Ms Batty.

Ms Batty said the fact that Edwards, with a history of recent Family Court Orders, sought so hard to purchase guns should have been a red flag.

"Current laws do not sufficiently protect women and children from gun violence because it is all based on whether an AVO has been instigated, instead of whether women or the children are at risk of harm," she said.


Experts calling for mandatory interviews with former partners

Experts are calling for interviews with current and former partners to be mandatory as part of routine background checks for an applicant for a gun licence.

In New Zealand not only are such interviews compulsory, but there are conducted with the partners privately to prevent intimidation by the applicant.

Philip Alpers, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Sydney who studies gun laws around the world, is quoted as saying “applicants’ current and former partners should be interviewed as a matter of course when background checks are being conducted.”

These interviews are considered best practice in Australian but are not mandatory.

It is not known whether Olga Edwards, John Edwards’ estranged wife and the mother of the murdered children, was interviewed.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald 



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