Anti-domestic violence advocates welcome NSW gun law reforms after inquiry into double murder

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: SUPPLIED/PR IMAGE</span>
Photograph: SUPPLIED/PR IMAGE

Domestic violence groups have cautiously welcomed major changes to gun ownership regulations in New South Wales after the release of a report on the double murder of two teenagers in 2018.

Gun regulations and police training procedures in NSW will receive a shake up as part of the supported recommendations handed down by the coroner’s report into the deaths of Jennifer and Jack Edwards and their father, John Edwards, in 2018

It comes as the NSW government, police and the firearms registry issued their responses to the 25 coronial recommendations, which include adding domestic violence offences to firearm disqualification regulations, and new systems to consider domestic violence offences when granting gun licences.

The responses come after the April findings of the inquest into the murders of Jennifer, 13, and Jack, 15, Edwards who were shot dead by their father on 5 July 2018.

Related: NSW police chief says sorry for letting down Jack and Jennifer Edwards

The inquest looked into how Edwards, 67, “carefully and meticulously” planned the murder of his children at the West Pennants Hill home they shared with their mother, before killing himself at his own home.

The bodies of the children were found under a desk in Jack’s bedroom, where they were hiding after their father had stalked Jennifer on her way home from school.

The family were in hiding after their mother, Olga, had begun family court proceedings against John. She took her own life six months after the shootings.

The coronial inquest examined why John was granted gun permits and licences, despite a series of red flags on his database record, including a history of domestic violence and apprehended violence orders.

In the 12 months leading up to the shootings, John had legally acquired five weapons, including the semiautomatic pistol he used to kill Jennifer and Jack.

The inquest heard Olga made two reports to police about John’s conduct, including his violence towards Jack, with the details misrecorded by a senior constable who had never opened the police handbook on family violence.

The two reports did not correctly identify John, meaning they did not show up on his police record when he applied for a gun licence.

Related: ‘Denied a voice’: how Australia fails migrant victims of domestic violence

NSW state coroner, Teresa O’Sullivan, had said the deaths were “preventable,” and pointed to a range of errors made by police and the Firearms Registry in the lead up to the children’s death.

“The deaths of Jack and Jennifer serve as a stark reminder of the broader systemic problems that face too many women and children every day,” she said.

NSW police supported all five recommendations directed at them, which were released last week.

The changes include the development of mandatory training for general officers responding to domestic violence, that could include specific modules on recording and reporting incidents correctly.

Police say they will also look to train shift supervisors so they are aware of verification requirements around domestic violence incidents, and developed a 15-module domestic violence training course that incorporates family law.

The Firearms Registry also supported recommendations that included changes to processes to ensure domestic violence is identified and considered during applications for firearm licences.

There will also be requirements for staff to consider whether applicants have provided false of misleading information in their application.

In a statement, NSW police say the Firearms Registry has undergone “extensive restructure which has resulted in enhanced compliance and better identification of breaches of the legislation”.

Seven of the recommendations directed at the NSW government were also supported, including implementing a new firearms regulation that will require applicants for firearm licences to disclose if they are engaged in family law proceedings.

Related: Queensland police to trial AI tool designed to predict and prevent domestic violence incidents

Domestic Violence NSW said they were generally supportive of the changes, but more needed to be done.

Policy and Research Manager at Domestic Violence NSW, Renata Field, said the list of recommendations was “practical and thorough”.

But Field said it was important the changes are part of a wider process, and not the conclusion on discussions of structural issues linked to domestic violence.

“We need comprehensive systemic changes to ensure that women and children such as the Edwards children, are not at risk of or experiencing significant harm and death in NSW. This case highlighted huge gaps in the support for older children as well as for culturally and linguistically diverse families.

“It is important that all recommendations are supported by all relevant organisations and are supported with a whole-of-government approach in line with the national plan, in order to ensure preventable tragedies like this do not occur again.”

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