Owners under fire over image

Chaz Forsyth is a full-time university student and a firearms enthusiast. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Chaz Forsyth is a full-time university student and a firearms enthusiast. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
A Clint Eastwood-style cowboy hat perched on a head adorned with a thick beard and camouflage paint.

A cigarette hanging from one side of the mouth and a sub-automatic something or other in each hand.

For many, it's the cliche image of a gun-toting fanatic - and it's bad PR for firearms owners.

Dressed in a pressed white shirt and jacket with a tie, wire-framed glasses and trimmed moustache, mild-mannered Chaz Forsyth is the antithesis of that image.

While Mr Forsyth does not aim to recast the mould of firearm owners, he is all too aware they suffer an image problem.

''It is an image thing and it intrigues me,'' he said. Mr Forsyth is curious when it comes to anything related to firearms, but the problem of image is particularly puzzling.

There is a practical side to the bushman image of firearms users, he says.

''We wear open-necked shirts because they are convenient and we get bloody [when hunting],'' he says.

''It's very difficult to avoid the blood and the flies and everything.''

The bush is a muddy place and chasing animals is sweat-inducing. Add to that the blood from shot animals and the fact hunting trips can often last days and the reasons for the bushman-like image are obvious.

Firearms users, however, are not oblivious to the image they portray and it is one of the reasons major hunting publications shy away from images of blood-soaked animals and hunters on their covers.

Mr Forsyth has used firearms since he was a teenager. While he is wary of calling himself a ''passionate firearms user'' - the word passionate should be saved for romance novels, he says - he concedes he is passionate about the topic of firearms.

He owns ''in the order of 10 firearms'' but is not keen to discuss numbers.

When asked if the number of firearms he owns is a private question, he says with a grin: ''Well, I think it is.''

Besides marching through the bush in pursuit of game, Mr Forsyth enjoys mixing it in the classroom - he is studying towards a master's degree in biogeography - and has pushed for firearms owners' rights at government level.

''I'm interested [in firearms owners' rights] because nobody else has done it in as detailed a manner,'' he said.

''There's no relationship between straight firearm ownership and [firearms-related] deaths.''

The Government had the balance right between firearms control and freedom, he said.

''The problem is society is dynamic - it changes.

''There's no simple solution and it behoves us as firearms owners to keep public safety at the forefront of our thinking.''

Although he didn't start hunting until 18, firearms safety for him began as a school cadet.

''It taught you to listen to people mouthing off absurd orders, but it also taught you some basic firearms handling,'' he said. He advocated for firearms licence holders, and pushed for safety.

''We have had fatalities ... but we don't like them,'' he said.

''We are all working to avoid that sort of thing ... we are taking more care and we have all had training.''

He says firearms-related deaths are declining and with more education that can continue.

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