The gun lobby has never been a moderate movement.120614 Hunting in Parks Rally 006 (600dpi)

What it lacks in evidence and public support it makes up for with intemperate language and emotionally charged hyperbole.

Anyone who uses the term “ideological jihad” to describe a Greens councillor who doesn’t rush to support a gun expo probably should have a cup of tea and a good lie down.

Propaganda and vitriol doesn’t serve the public, so we really should be clear on the facts of the Narooma HuntFest v Animals in the Wild debate.

First let’s get one thing straight.

HuntFest is not a small archery club’s bake sale.

It’s sponsored by the Sports Shooters Association of Australia (SSAA), the large, spearhead organisation of the Australian gun lobby.

HuntFest is held in NATA Reserve, for which Eurobodalla Council is Trust Manager, and uses the Narooma Community Centre – both publicly owned.

Unsurprisingly, there are checks and balances for how our assets can legitimately and safely be used.

In 2012, HuntFest was naively approved by the Eurobodalla Shire Council for 2013 as a photographic and media competition.

But that was not the true extent of Huntfest’s plan, and the mission creep that has followed deserves to be regarded with suspicion.

For 2014 the event amended its licence conditions (approved by council for 5 years) to display firearms, bring hunting simulators, and run archery courses in a shipping container.

Greens councillor Gabi Harding with a great level of foresight got council to agree to a public consultation if the licence conditions were amended again.

Sure enough, this year, HuntFest sought to amend its licence again to morph into what it was always intended by the organisers to be – an arms expo and market, with guns and other firearms for sale, hunting simulators, archery courses inside a shipping container, and a now mobile air-rifle range.

A public consultation followed, the results of which show what local Eurobodalla residents really think of HuntFest.

Although the gun lobby organised its (out of area) people to flood the consultation, with 83.5 per cent of non-residents supporting the gun expo, 81.5 per cent (166 submissions) of local residents opposed it.

Then a petition signed by 940 residents and ratepayers of the electorate of Bega rejecting HuntFest was presented by their local member to Parliament.

Narooma is a peaceful and tolerant town renowned for a love of nature rather than a love of hunting and killing, and residents are rightly concerned that their reputation will be ruined by this event.

Ignoring 80 per cent of its local submissions, the majority of council approved the expansion of the event licence to allow that public space to be used to glorify gun culture and amateur hunting.

The Environmental Defenders Office on behalf of residents’ group “Stop Arms Fairs in Eurobodalla” (SAFE) wrote to council last month advising that its approval of HuntFest’s weapons sales and an air-rifle range was unlawful because these activities were never part of the planning approval.

The consultation report that recommended council approval is a superficial document.

It didn’t mention the concern of residents that HuntFest would encourage a local gun culture, and there was no explanation of how the figure of $800,000 in benefits to the local economy was arrived at by the organisers.

We’re all still waiting for an explanation.

Hunters may well spend huge amounts of money on firearms – but how many gun dealers are from Narooma?

None. There seems to be only one gun dealer in Eurobodalla Shire, in Mogo.

If HuntFest is cancelled due to the non-compliance of its organisers with planning approval regulations, there will be no-one to blame but the organisers for their cavalier approach to public event planning, and the Eurobodalla Council for illegally approving the mushrooming event.

South Coast residents are right to be concerned about safety at HuntFest.

A freedom of information request revealed that NSW Police have approved 21 arms fair permits in the last three years, and have only refused one.

There’s no way for you or I to know how seriously the approval process is taken or whether it’s just a rubber stamping process.

NSW Police have refused to make public the arms fair applications and risk assessments, so we cannot know their quality.

Gun dealers lobbied for HuntFest in Narooma to promote a gun culture and put more weapons into circulation, and it’s a simple fact that more weapons produce more opportunities for firearm crime, accidents, and injured wildlife.

A 2013 study found that while one million Australian guns were destroyed in the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre, we have restocked, importing more than a million firearms since.

Following the Martin Place siege, the government reported an estimated 250,000 long arms and 10,000 handguns in the grey and illicit firearms market in Australia.

Many of those will have been stolen from licensed owners.

Not only are firearms a danger to humans, because their presence inevitably makes NSW bushland more dangerous for the people who wish to enjoy nature peacefully, but there has also been a disturbing increase in the number of native animals being injured or killed by hunters using bows and arrows.

Wildlife rescue organisation WIRES says the consequences are devastating.

Too often amateur hunting leaves animals wounded and suffering.

It is also a comprehensive failure in controlling feral animals.

Residents do not want HuntFest in Narooma.

So we started a peaceful, alternative event, celebrating through the ‘Animals in the Wild’ competition nature as it was meant to be – in the wild, unthreatened, and unharmed by humans.

Now in its second year, the competition is for people who shoot animals with a camera, not a gun.

The vast majority of local Eurobodalla residents are lovers of nature – it’s why they choose to live in the beautiful natural setting of the south coast.

Nature is there for us to appreciate, not decimate.

The Greens are and always have been against a hobby that celebrates the destruction of animals for fun.

Animal rights discourse has moved into the 21st Century – at least in Australia, most of us have realised animal cruelty is not okay.

We’ve mostly also recognised that encouraging a gun culture has done America no favours at all.

As journalist Peter FitzSimons said of HuntFest last year, “What is this, Alabama?”

Rest assured, the Animals in the Wild photography competition is not about to morph into an ugly, unapproved firearms market.

This opinion piece was originally published in the Bega District News.