Gun laws in Australia

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Gun laws in Australia became a political issue in the 1980s. Low levels of violent crime through much of the 20th century kept levels of public concern about firearms low. In the last two decades of the century, following several high profile killing sprees and a media campaign, the Australian government coordinated more restrictive firearms legislation with all state governments.

A common misconception is that firearms are illegal in Australia and that no individual may possess them. Although it is true that Australia has tough firearms laws, rifles and shotguns (both of which include semi-automatics), as well as handguns, are all legal.

As of 2015, about 815,000 people hold a gun license in Australia and there were around 3.5 to 5.5 million registered firearms,[1] and an estimated 1 to 6 million illegal firearms. Most people own and use firearms for purposes such as hunting, controlling feral animals, gun collecting, security work, and target shooting. Firearm ownership in Australia is increasing. For example, the state of Tasmania has more guns per capita with an average of 1 gun every 4 people or one gun every family household, followed by the Northern Territory with 1 gun every 5 people.

Australian firearm laws[edit]

State laws regulate the ownership, possession and use of firearms in Australia.[2] Until 1996, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia had different gun laws. For example, long guns were not registered in Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania; owners of firearms were required to be licensed from 1988, and licences were introduced for long guns in Tasmania in 1991. Western Australia and the Northern Territory had tight restrictions, especially on centrefire semi-automatic firearms.

Gun laws were largely aligned in 1996 by the National Firearms Agreement. Anyone wishing to possess or use a firearm must have a firearms licence and, with some exceptions, be over the age of 12. Owners must be at least 18 years of age and have secure storage for their firearms.

National Firearms Agreement[edit]

In 1996 all States subscribed to the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), which was instituted through the Australian Police Ministers Council (APMC) with the cooperation of all states. The Australian state and territory laws regulating weapons are:[2]

  • New South Wales: Firearms Act 1996, Weapons Prohibition Act 1998, and associated regulations
  • Victoria: Firearms Act 1996, Control of Weapons Act 1990, and associated regulations
  • Queensland: Weapons Act 1990 and associated regulations
  • Western Australia: Firearms Act 1973 and associated regulations
  • South Australia: Firearms Act 1977 and associated regulations
  • Tasmania: Firearms Act 1996 and associated regulations
  • Northern Territory: Firearms Act and associated regulations
  • Australian Capital Territory: Firearms Act 1996, Prohibited Weapons Act 1996, and associated regulations

At the federal level, the importation of firearms is subject to the restrictions in Regulation 4F and Schedule 6 of the Customs (Prohibited Goods) Regulations 1956 (Cth).

Each firearm in Australia must be registered to the owner by serial number except firearms manufactured before 1 Jan 1901 which in some states are exempt from a requirement for registration. Some states allow an owner to store or borrow another person's registered firearm of the same category.[citation needed]

Firearms categories[edit]

The National Firearm Agreement defines categories of firearms, with different levels of control for each, as follows:.

  • Category A: Rimfire rifles (not semi-automatic), circuit loaded firearms. shotguns (not pump-action or semi-automatic), air rifles including semi automatic, and paintball gun. A "Genuine Reason" must be provided for a Category A firearm.
  • Category B: Centrefire rifles including bolt action pump action, circuit loaded and lever action (not semi-automatic), muzzleloading firearms made after 1 January 1901. A category B licence also covers category A but not vice versa
  • Category C: Self-loading rimfire rifles holding 10 or fewer rounds and pump-action or self-loading shotguns holding 5 or fewer rounds. Primary producers, occupational shooters[clarification needed], firearm dealers, firearm safety officers, collectors and some clay target shooters can own functional Category C firearms.
  • Category D: Self-loading centrefire rifles, pump-action or self-loading shotguns holding more than 5 rounds. Functional Category D firearms are restricted to government agencies and occupational shooters. Collectors may own deactivated Category D firearms.
  • Category H: Handguns including air pistols and deactivated handguns. Neither South Australia nor Western Australia require deactivated handguns to be regarded as handguns after deactivation. This situation[when?] prompted the deactivation and diversion of thousands of handguns to the black market in Queensland[vague] – the loophole[which?] shut since 2001) This class is available to target shooters and certain security guards whose job requires possession of a firearm. To be eligible for a Category H firearm, a target shooter must serve a probationary period of 6 months using club handguns, after which they may apply for a permit. A minimum number of matches yearly to retain each category of handgun and be a paid-up member of an approved pistol club.[3]

The states have defined additional categories of firearms and controls, as follows:

Target shooters are limited to handguns of .38 or 9mm calibre or less and magazines may hold a maximum of 10 rounds. Participants in certain "approved" pistol competitions may acquire handguns up to .45", currently Single Action Shooting and Metallic Silhouette. IPSC shooting is approved for 9mm/.38/.357 sig, handguns that meet the IPSC rules, larger calibres such as .45 were approved for IPSC handgun shooting contests in Australia in 2014.[4] Category H barrels must be at least 100mm (3.94") long for revolvers, and 120mm (4.72") for semi-automatic pistols unless the pistols are clearly ISSF target pistols; magazines are restricted to 10 rounds. Handguns held as part of a collection were exempted from these limits.
Certain antique firearms (generally muzzle loading black powder flintlock firearms manufactured before 1 January 1901) can in some states be legally held without a licence.[5] In other states they are subject to the same requirements as modern firearms.[6] All single-shot muzzleloading firearms manufactured before 1 January 1901 are considered antique firearms. Four states require licences for antique percussion revolvers and cartridge repeating firearms, but in Queensland and Victoria a person may possess such a firearm without a licence, so long as the firearm is registered (percussion revolvers require a licence in Victoria).

Australia has very tight restrictions on some items which are far less controlled in comparable societies such as New Zealand. Air pistols, elsewhere unrestricted, are as difficult to get as centrefire and rimfire handguns, and low-powered airguns are as difficult as cartridge arms to license. Airsoft guns are banned in all states and non-firing replicas banned in most. Suppressors (or 'silencers') which are legal in the UK and New Zealand, are restricted to a few government bodies.[7]


Firearms in Australian history[edit]

Firearms were introduced to Australia with European settlement. They were used for hunting, protection of persons and crops, in crime and fighting crime, and in many military engagements. From the landing of the First Fleet on 26 January 1788 there was conflict with Aborigines over game, access to fenced land, and spearing of livestock. Firearms were used to protect explorers and settlers from Aboriginal attack. A number of punitive raids and massacres of Aboriginals were carried out in a series of local conflicts. The history of these conflicts is contentious (see History wars).

From the beginning there were controls on firearms. The firearms issued to convicts (for meat hunting) and settlers (for hunting and protection) were stolen and misused, and this resulted in more controls. In January 1796, David Collins wrote that 'several attempts had been made to ascertain the number of arms in the possession of individuals, as many were feared to be in the hands of those who committed depredations; the crown recalled between two and three hundred stands of arms, but not 50 stands were accounted for'.[8]

Australian colonists also used firearms in conflict with bushrangers; in duels, the last in 1854; in armed rebellions, such as the Castle Hill convict rebellion in 1804 and the 1854 Eureka Stockade. The Eureka Stockade in 1854 arose as a result of Government and police abuses against gold miners. A large force of police and soldiers assaulted a stockade set up by miners. Six soldiers and twenty-two miners were killed.

From the 1850s to the 1950s, Australians developed a strong volunteer tradition in preparing defence against possible invaders, and sent volunteer expeditionary forces to most British wars.[9] From this arose an enthusiastic civil marksmanship movement, a form of military reserve supported under the Defence Act until as late as 1996. The movement exists to this day in the fullbore rifle clubs affiliated with the State and National Rifle Associations of Australia.[10] The highest national shooting trophy is the Queen's Prize.[citation needed]

Federation and the rise of regulation in the 20th century[edit]

Gun laws were the responsibility of each colony and, since Federation in 1901, of each state. The Commonwealth does not have constitutional authority over firearms, but it controls customs and defence matters, and the external affairs power can be used to enforce internal control over matters agreed in external treaties.

During the 1920s Australia, Canada and Great Britain became concerned about the rise of communism after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and imposed restrictions on handguns.[11] The murders of three policemen in Western Australia and the rise of organised crime in Sydney and Melbourne, with a number of lurid underworld murders were also a factor.[12] These restrictions have increased over the succeeding decades. In New South Wales, handguns were effectively banned after World War II but the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games sparked a new interest in the sport of pistol shooting and laws were changed to allow the sport to develop.

Rifles and shotguns were less restricted than handguns. State gun laws varied widely. Western Australia and the Northern Territory had severe restrictions even on sporting rifles and shotguns, but in Queensland and Tasmania they could be bought without restrictions.

Fully automatic arms were banned on the Australian mainland from the 1930s, but remained legal in Tasmania until 1996.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Cold War concerns about ex-military rifles falling into the hands of communist radicals led New South Wales to place restrictions on the legal ownership of rifles of a military calibre (see: .303/25) while members of rifle clubs and military rifle clubs could own ex-military rifles. In the 1970s these restrictions were relaxed in New South Wales and military style rifles (both bolt-action and semi-automatic) once again became widely available, except in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

By the beginning of the 1980s, the relative popularity of shooting and the prevalence of firearms in the community began to fall as social attitudes changed and urbanisation increased. The rise of new values including feminism, environmental awareness and media reports of American gun violence created an awareness of gun control as a potential issue. The 1981 publication of Richard Harding's book "Firearms and Violence in Australian Life"[13] and conferences in several cities involved academics, criminologists, police representatives and gun control activists. As in other countries, public concern over violence and its possible links to media violence also gave rise to a general increase in support for gun control and increased media involvement in the issue. Gun control activism in Australia became organised with the formation in 1981 of the "Committee to Control Gun Misuse" in Victoria, later to become Gun Control Australia.

1984–1996 multiple killings[edit]

From 1984 to 1996, multiple killings aroused public concern. The 1984 Milperra massacre was a major incident in a series of conflicts between various 'outlaw motorcycle gangs'. In 1987, the Hoddle Street massacre and the Queen Street massacre took place in Melbourne. In response, several states required the registration of all guns, and restricted the availability of self-loading rifles and shotguns. In the Strathfield massacre in New South Wales, 1991, two were killed with a knife, and five more with a firearm. Tasmania passed a law in 1991 for firearm purchasers to obtain a licence, though enforcement was light. Firearm laws in Tasmania and Queensland remained relatively relaxed for longarms.

Shooting massacres in Australia and other English-speaking countries often occurred close together in time. Forensic psychiatrists attribute this to copycat behaviour,[14][15] which is in many cases triggered by sensational media treatment.[16][17] Mass murderers study media reports and imitate the actions and equipment that are sensationalised in them.[18]

Port Arthur massacre and its consequences[edit]

Gun Deaths by Year, America and Australia

The Port Arthur massacre in 1996 transformed gun control legislation in Australia. 35 people were killed and 23 wounded when a man with a history of violent and erratic behaviour beginning in early childhood[19] opened fire on shop owners and tourists with two semi-automatic rifles. Six weeks after the Dunblane massacre in Scotland,[14] this mass killing at the notorious former convict prison at Port Arthur horrified the Australian public and had powerful political consequences.

The Port Arthur perpetrator said he bought his firearms from a gun dealer without holding the required firearms licence.[20]

Prime Minister John Howard immediately took the gun law proposals developed from the report of the 1988 National Committee on Violence[21] and forced the states to adopt them under a National Firearms Agreement. This was necessary because the Australian Constitution does not give the Commonwealth power to enact gun laws. The proposals included a ban on all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, and a tightly restrictive system of licensing and ownership controls.

Some discussion of measures to allow owners to undertake modifications to reduce the capacity of magazine-fed shotguns ("crimping") occurred, but the government refused to permit this.

The Howard Government planned a series of public meetings to explain the proposed changes. In the first meeting, Howard wore a bullet-resistant vest, which was visible under his jacket. Many shooters were critical of this.[22][23][24] Some gun enthusiasts applied to join the Liberal Party in an attempt to influence the government, but the party barred them from membership.[25][26] A court action by 500 shooters seeking admission to membership eventually failed in the Supreme Court of South Australia.[27]

The Australian Constitution requires just compensation be given for property taken over, so the federal government introduced the Medicare Levy Amendment Act 1996 to raise the predicted cost of A$500 million through a one-off increase in the Medicare levy. The gun buy-back scheme started on 1 October 1996 and concluded on 30 September 1997.[28] The government bought back and destroyed nearly 1 million firearms,[29] mostly semi-automatic .22 rimfires, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns. Only Victoria provided a breakdown of types destroyed, and in that state less than 3% were military-style semi-automatic rifles.[citation needed]

Since the 1996 legislation the risk of dying by gunshots was reduced by 50% in the following years and stayed on that lower level since then. The rate of gun related suicide was greatly reduced as well.[29] But Neill and Leigh [30] found that in the decade following the NFA, the NON-firearm homicede rate fell by 59% and the firearm homicide rate fell by no more than the same 59%. Any findings as to suicide are refuted by the historical previous research by Richard Harding[31] in his book “Firearms and Violence in Australian Life” at page 119, where, after reviewing Australian statistics, he found that “whatever arguments might be made for the limitation or regulation of the private ownership of firearms, suicide patterns do not constitute one of them” Harding quoted international analysis by Newton and Zimring[32] of twenty developed countries which concluded at page 36 of their report; “cultural factors appear to affect suicide rates far more than the availability and use of firearms. Thus,suicide rates would not seem to be readily affected by making firearms less available."

An estimated 250,000 semi-automatic rifles were not handed in.[citation needed] Police seizures in raids for drugs and other crimes have captured many weapons in Australia, however many still remain at large. The pump action shotgun used by Man Haron Monis in the Lindt cafe siege (killing 2 people) was a pre-1996 weapon sourced from this 'black market'.

Handgun ownership did not have the same controls as semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns, and handgun ownership surged after controls. Following the National Agreement on Firearms, the number of deaths by firearms in Australia did not initially decline rapidly and overall homicides immediately after, saw a decrease of less than one per 100,000 persons.[33] Over the medium term however, homicide by firearm dropped from 1/200,000 to 1/670,000. By 2010-2014, the entire gun related homicides across all of Australia had dropped to 30-40 per year. Firearms in 2014 were used in less than 15% of homicides, less than 0.1% of sexual assaults, less than 6% of kidnapping/abductions and only 8% of robberies.[34]

Suicides by firearm were already declining; however they fell significantly after controls,[35] dropping around 50% in just two years. Overall suicide rates remained steady until a slight drop in 2003, followed by stable rates since then.[33]

Monash University shootings[edit]

In October 2002, a commerce student killed two fellow students at Monash University in Victoria with pistols he had acquired as a member of a shooting club. The gunman, Huan Yun Xiang, was acquitted of crimes related to the shootings due to mental impairment but ordered to be detained in Thomas Embling Hospital, a high-security hospital for up to 25 years.[36]

As in 1996, the federal government urged state governments to review handgun laws, and amended legislation was adopted in all states and territories. Changes included a 10-round magazine capacity limit, a calibre limit of not more than .38 inches (since expanded under certain criteria) (9.65 mm), a barrel length limit of not less than 120 mm (4.72 inches) for semi-automatic pistols and 100 mm (3.94 inches) for revolvers, and even stricter probation and attendance requirements for sporting target shooters. Whilst handguns for sporting shooters are nominally restricted to .38 inches as a maximum calibre, it is possible to obtain an endorsement allowing calibres up to .45 inches (11.43 mm) to be used for metallic silhouette or Single Action Shooting matches. These new laws were opposed not only by sporting shooters groups but also by gun control supporters, who saw it as paying for shooters to upgrade to new guns. In the state of Victoria Figures show Victorians have handed in 18,814 guns to be destroyed — easily exceeding the Victorian Government's prediction that 10,000 guns would be given up. 15,184 replacement pistols were imported. The buyback is a joint initiative by the federal and state governments. Victorians have handed in more guns than shooters in any other state, 40% of the 46,072 weapons collected nationwide. Shooters have also handed in 228,063 gun parts. Almost $60 million compensation has been paid nationwide.[37]

One government policy was to compensate shooters for giving up the sport. Approximately 25% of pistol shooters took this offer, and relinquished their licences and their right to own pistols for sport for five years; in Victoria it is estimated 1/3 of people surrendering firearms took this option.[37]

Gun amnesties[edit]

In New South Wales there has been three gun amnesties in 2001, 2003 and 2009. 63,000 handguns were handed in during the first two amnesties and over 4,323 handguns were handed in during the third amnesty. During the third amnesty 21,615 firearm registrations were received by the Firearms Registry. The surrendered firearms were all destroyed.[38]

2014 Sydney hostage crisis[edit]

On 15–16 December 2014, a lone gunman, Man Haron Monis, held hostage 17 customers and employees of a Lindt chocolate café located at Martin Place in Sydney, Australia. The perpetrator was on bail at the time, had previously been convicted of a range of offences.[39]

In August 2015, Mike Baird and Troy Grant announced a tightening of laws on bail and illegal firearms, creating a new offence for the possession of a stolen firearm, with a maximum of 14 years imprisonment and establishing an Illegal Firearms Investigation and Reward Scheme. This legislative change also introduced measures to reduce illegal firearms in NSW including a ban on the possession of digital blueprints that enable firearms to be manufactured using 3D printers and milling machines for anyone without an appropriate licence.[40]

After the Lindt cafe deaths, Senator David Leyonhjelm labelled Australia a country of “disarmed victims”.[41] Leyonhjelm and his staff were threatened by anti-gun people for this statement. The handgun is the class of arms that is overwhelmingly chosen for the purpose of self-defense[42] but In the Australian thrill killing of Robert and Cheryl Adamson,[43] the only weapon available to the Adamsons before they were both killed was a broom. Elderly Australian women Pirjo Kemppainen[44] and Anne Redman[45] were also helpless when the thrill killers came to their homes to murder them.

Measuring the effects of firearms laws in Australia[edit]

Changes in social problems related to firearms over time[edit]

Historically, Australia has had relatively low levels of violent crime. Overall levels of homicide and suicide have been in decline for several decades, while the proportion of these crimes that involved firearms has consistently declined since the early 1980s. Between 1991 and 2001, the number of firearm-related deaths in Australia declined 47%.[46] According to a 2011 report from the Australian government, "...the number of victims of homicide has been in decline since 1996". There were 354 victims in 1996, but only 260 victims in 2010, a decrease of 27 percent. Of those 260 victims however, only 36 were homicides involving a firearm. Also, "The proportion of homicide victims killed by offenders using firearms in 2009–10 represented a decrease of 18 percentage points from the peak of 31 percent in 1995–96 (the year in which the Port Arthur massacre occurred with the death of 35 people, which subsequently led to the introduction of stringent firearms legislation).". In 2014, only 35 people were victims of firearms homicide (1 in 685000 population),[47] compared to 98 people in 1996 [48] (1 in 186000 population). A 3.7 fold decrease in firearm homicide rates since controls were introduced.

Firearm suicides have fallen from about 22% of all suicides in 1992[49] to 7% of all suicides in 2005.[50] Immediately following the Buyback there was a fall in firearm suicides which was more than offset by a 10% increase in total suicides in 1997 and 1998.[51] There were concerted efforts in suicide prevention from this time and in subsequent years the total suicide rate resumed its decline.[52]

The number of guns stolen has fallen from an average 4,195 per year from 1994 to 2000 to 1,526 in 2006–2007. Long guns are more often stolen opportunistically in home burglaries, but few homes have handguns and a substantial proportion of stolen handguns are taken from security firms and other businesses; only a tiny proportion, 0.06% of licensed firearms, are stolen in a given year. Only a small proportion of those firearms are recovered. Approximately 3% of these stolen weapons are later connected to an actual crime or found in the possession of a person charged with a serious offence.[53]

Contention over effects of the laws[edit]


In 1997, the Prime Minister appointed the Australian Institute of Criminology to monitor the effects of the gun buyback. The institute has published a number of papers reporting trends and statistics around gun ownership and gun crime, which it has found to be mostly related to illegally held firearms.[54][55]

Many studies have followed, providing varying results stemming from different methodologies and areas of focus. However, Harvard University summarized the research[56] in 2011 and concluded, “it would have been difficult to imagine more compelling future evidence of a beneficial effect.”

Some researchers have found a significant change in the rate of firearm suicides after the legislative changes. For example, Ozanne-Smith et al. (2004)[57] in the journal Injury Prevention found a reduction in firearm suicides in Victoria, however this study did not consider non-firearm suicide rates. Others have argued that alternative methods of suicide have been substituted. De Leo, Dwyer, Firman & Neulinger,[58] studied suicide methods in men from 1979 to 1998 and found a rise in hanging suicides that started slightly before the fall in gun suicides. As hanging suicides rose at about the same rate as gun suicides fell, it is possible that there was some substitution of suicide methods. It has been noted that drawing strong conclusions about possible impacts of gun laws on suicides is challenging, because a number of suicide prevention programs were implemented from the mid-1990s onwards, and non-firearm suicides also began falling.[59]

Any findings as to suicide are refuted by the historical previous research by Richard Harding in his book “Firearms and Violence in Australian Life”[31] at page 119, where after reviewing Australian statistics, he found that “whatever arguments might be made for the limitation or regulation of the private ownership of firearms, suicide patterns do not constitute one of them” Harding quoted international analysis by Newton and Zimring[32] of twenty developed countries which concluded at page 36 of their report; “cultural factors appear to affect suicide rates far more than the availability and use of firearms. Thus,suicide rates would not seem to be readily affected by making firearms less available."

In 2005 the head of the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn,[60] noted that the level of legal gun ownership in NSW increased in recent years, and that the 1996 legislation had had little to no effect on violence. Professor Simon Chapman, former coconvenor of the Coalition for Gun Control, complained that his words "will henceforth be cited by every gun-lusting lobby group throughout the world in their perverse efforts to stall reforms that could save thousands of lives".[61] Weatherburn responded, "The fact is that the introduction of those laws did not result in any acceleration of the downward trend in gun homicide. They may have reduced the risk of mass shootings but we cannot be sure because no one has done the rigorous statistical work required to verify this possibility. It is always unpleasant to acknowledge facts that are inconsistent with your own point of view. But I thought that was what distinguished science from popular prejudice."[62]

In 2006, the lack of a measurable effect from the 1996 firearms legislation was reported in the British Journal of Criminology. Using ARIMA analysis, Dr Jeanine Baker and Dr Samara McPhedran found no evidence for an impact of the laws on homicide.[63]

Weatherburn described the Baker and McPhedran article as "reputable" and "well-conducted" and stated that the available data are insufficient to draw stronger conclusions.[64] Weatherburn noted the importance of actively policing illegal firearm trafficking and argued that there was little evidence that the new laws had helped in this regard.[65]

A study coauthored by Simon Chapman found declines in firearm‐related deaths before the law reforms accelerated after the reforms for total firearm deaths (p=0.04), firearm suicides (p=0.007) and firearm homicides (p=0.15), but not for the smallest category of unintentional firearm deaths, which increased.[66]

Subsequently, a study by McPhedran and Baker compared the incidence of mass shootings in Australia and New Zealand. Data were standardised to a rate per 100,000 people, to control for differences in population size between the countries and mass shootings before and after 1996/1997 were compared between countries. That study found that in the period 1980–1996, both countries experienced mass shootings. The rate did not differ significantly between countries. Since 1996-1997, neither country has experienced a mass shooting event despite the continued availability of semi-automatic longarms in New Zealand. The authors conclude that "the hypothesis that Australia's prohibition of certain types of firearms explains the absence of mass shootings in that country since 1996 does not appear to be supported... if civilian access to certain types of firearms explained the occurrence of mass shootings in Australia (and conversely, if prohibiting such firearms explains the absence of mass shootings), then New Zealand (a country that still allows the ownership of such firearms) would have continued to experience mass shooting events."[67]

In 2009 a paper from the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention at Griffith University concluded:

The implemented restrictions may not be responsible for the observed reductions in firearms suicide. Data suggest that a change in social and cultural attitudes could have contributed to the shift in method preference.[68]

A 2010 study on the effects of the firearm buybacks by Wang-Sheng Lee and Sandy Suardi of The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne studied the data and concluded, "Despite the fact that several researchers using the same data have examined the impact of the NFA on firearm deaths, a consensus does not appear to have been reached. In this paper, we re-analyze the same data on firearm deaths used in previous research, using tests for unknown structural breaks as a means to identifying impacts of the NFA. The results of these tests suggest that the NFA did not have any large effects on reducing firearm homicide or suicide rates."[69]

A 2010 study claimed, on the basis of modelled statistical estimates, that the gun buyback scheme cut firearm suicides by 74%. The study,[70] by Christine Neill and Andrew Leigh, found no evidence of substitution of method of suicide in any state. The estimated effect on firearm homicides was of similar magnitude but less precise.

Most recently, McPhedran and Baker found there was little evidence for any impacts of the gun laws on firearm suicide among people under 35 years of age, and suggest that the significant financial expenditure associated with Australia's firearms method restriction measures may not have had any impact on youth suicide.[71]

A 2013 report by the Australian Crime Commission said a conservative estimate was that there were 250,000 longarms and 10,000 handguns in the nation's illicit firearms market. The number of guns imported to Australia legally has also risen, including a 24 per cent increase during the past six years in the number of registered handguns in NSW, some of them diverted to the black market via theft or corrupt dealers and owners.[72] A 2014 report stated that approximately "260,000 guns are on the Australian 'grey' or black markets", and discussed the potential problem of people using 3D printers to create guns. NSW and Victorian police obtained plans to create 3D printed guns and tested to see if they could fire, but the guns exploded during testing.[73]

Statements by organisations[edit]

The American National Rifle Association claimed in 2000 that violent crimes had increased in Australia since the introduction of new laws. The federal Attorney General Daryl Williams accused the NRA of falsifying government statistics and urged the NRA to "remove any reference to Australia" from its website.[74]

CLASS (The Coalition of Law Abiding Sporting Shooters) in 2003 stated that no benefit-cost analysis of the buyback had been carried out and that scientific debate was politicised and ignored benefits of shooting and costs forced on legitimate owners.[75]

The Sporting Shooters Association of Australia states that there is no evidence that gun control restrictions in 1987, 1996 and 2002 had any impact on the already established trends.[76][77]

Responding to Neill and Leigh, The Sporting Shooters Association of Australia replied [78] that suicide by firearm has been decreasing steadily since the mid-1980s, but suicide by other methods such as hanging has not followed the same trend; that important assumptions of the work were not mentioned in media reports; that 93% of people replaced their seized firearms with at least one, if not more, to replace their loss; and recommended the work of Lee and Suardi, who reviewed almost 90 years of ABS data when making their conclusions, while Leigh and Neill chose to analyse only two five-year periods on either side of the 1996 buy-back.

Major players in gun politics in Australia[edit]

State governments and state police[edit]

Firearms laws are the responsibility of state governments and usually these Governments act on the recommendations of their Police services in firearms matters. Issues arise in each state due to local activism, enforcement culture and differences in administration.

Federal government[edit]

Until 1996, the federal government had little role in firearms law. Following the Port Arthur massacre, the Howard Government (1996–2007), with strong media and public support, introduced uniform gun laws with the cooperation of all the states, brought about through threats to Commonwealth funding arrangements. The then Prime Minister John Howard frequently referred to the USA to explain his opposition to civilian firearms ownership and use in Australia, stating that he did not want Australia to go "down the American path".[79][80][81] In one interview on Sydney radio station 2GB he said, "We will find any means we can to further restrict them because I hate guns... ordinary citizens should not have weapons. We do not want the American disease imported into Australia."[82] Howard had earlier expressed a desire to introduce restrictive gun laws when he was opposition leader during a 1995 interview with Australian political journalist Laurie Oakes.[83] In his autobiography Lazarus Rising: A Personal and Political Autobiography, Howard expressed his support for the anti-gun cause and his desire to introduce restrictive gun laws long before he became prime minister. In a television interview shortly before the 10th anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre, he reaffirmed his stance: "I did not want Australia to go down the American path. There are some things about America I admire and there are some things I don't. And one of the things I don't admire about America is their... slavish love of guns. They're evil". During the same television interview, Howard also stated that he saw the outpouring of grief in the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre as "an opportunity to grab the moment and think about a fundamental change to gun laws in this country".[84]

The prime minister had strong public support in the immediate aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre, especially from those people who regularly voted against the Liberal Party. However, the gun laws have been a source of friction between the National Party and the Liberal Party, which together formed the coalition federal government from 1996 to 2007.[citation needed] The Nationals had strong support from rural voters, some of whom were opposed to the government's moves towards gun control. The 1996 National Firearms Agreement has been blamed for the defeat of the Nationals in the 1998 Queensland elections and generating much of the support for the 1997 rise of the One Nation Party.[85][citation needed]

From the November 2007 federal election to September 2013, the Australian Labor Party was in government, from 2010 in formal partnership with the Australian Greens Party. Labor policy continued to support the National Firearms Agreement.[86][87] With the return of the Coalition to power under Tony Abbott at the 2013 election, no change to the agreement was likely.

The federal government continues to be involved in adding or adjusting restrictions via the Attorney-General's Department, using the customs power and consultation with states. Examples include proposed importation bans on calibres used for long-range sniping such as the .50 BMG and .416 Barrett ; large-capacity magazines (mostly for semi automatic weapons); stocks and parts for various categories of firearms; and controls affecting participants in international competitions. A Firearms and Weapons Policy Working Group operates across government bodies and input of major stakeholder groups is enabled at national level via the Commonwealth Firearms Advisory Council and occasional public consultation on proposed changes.[citation needed]

Gun control organisations[edit]

Active lobbying in Australia has been conducted mainly by Gun Control Australia (GCA), the National Coalition for Gun Control (NCGC) and the Australian Greens Party.

The NCGC had a high profile in the public debate up to and immediately after the Port Arthur Massacre. Rebecca Peters, Roland Browne, Simon Chapman and Reverend Tim Costello[88] appeared in media reports and authored articles to support their aims.[89] In the aftermath of Port Arthur a number of public health bodies added their support to the NCGC.

In 1996 the NCGC received the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's Community Human Rights award.

In 2003 Samantha Lee as chair of the NCGC was financed by a Churchill Fellowship to publish a paper[90] arguing that current handgun legislation is too loose, that police officers who are shooters have a conflict of interest, and that licensed private firearm ownership per se presents a threat to women and children.[91] In a late 2005 press release, Roland Browne as co-chair of the NCGC, advocated further restrictions on handguns.[92][93]

Gun Control Australia has published a number of booklets, maintains a website, and occasionally is quoted in the media.

In July 2012, GCA announced a merger with the National Coalition for Gun Control, and that Samantha Lee of NSW and Roland Browne of Tasmania would join President John Crook and Vice-President Rhonda Collins as spokespersons.

Pro-gun organisations[edit]

Shooting clubs have existed in Australia since the mid-19th century. They are mainly concerned with protecting the viability of hunting, collecting and target shooting sports, rather than keeping firearms for self-defence as in the USA. Australian shooters regard their sport as under permanent threat from increasingly restrictive legislation. They argue that they have been made scapegoats by politicians, the media, and anti-gun activists for the acts of criminals who generally use illegal firearms. Their researchers have found scant evidence that increasing restrictions have improved public safety, despite the high costs and severe regulatory barriers imposed on shooters in Australia.[94][95]

The largest organisation of firearms owners is the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, with 175,000 members (2015 figures).[96] SSAA state branches are responsible for lobbying on local issues, while SSAA National addresses Federal legislation and international issues. SSAA National has non-government organisation (NGO) status at the United Nations and is a founding member of The World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities (WFSA), which also has NGO status. SSAA National have a number of people working in research and lobbying roles. In 2008, they appointed journalist and media manager Tim Bannister as Federal Parliamentary lobbyist.[97]

For handguns, one major organisation in Australia is Pistol Australia.[98]

There are several other national bodies, such as Field and Game Australia, the National Rifle Association of Australia, the International Practical Shooting Conferation (IPSC), the Australian Clay Target Association and Target Rifle Australia. These national bodies with their state counterparts concentrate on a range of sporting and political issues ranging from Olympic type competition through to conservation activities.

The Combined Firearms Council of Victoria was created in late 2002 and has been very active in the debate in Victoria. The CFCV ran advertisements in the 2002 Victorian State Election. The CFCV made voting recommendations at the 2002 and 2006 Victorian state elections, supporting specific candidates rather than political parties. Four of the six ALP MPs elevated to the front bench after the 2002 Victorian election were supported by the CFCV. A Firearms Consultative Committee, established in 2005 in Victoria, led to several changes to firearms legislation that benefited handgun users and gun collectors.

The Shooters and Fishers Party is a political party in New South Wales that "is the voice of hunters, shooters, fishers, rural and regional Australia and independent thinking Australians everywhere. Advocating for the politically incorrect, a voice of reason, science and conservation".[99] Its founder, John Tingle, served as an elected member of the upper house of New South Wales parliament, the Legislative Council, from 1995 until he retired in late 2006. The party currently holds two seats in the NSW Legislative Council.[100] In 2013 a Western Australian branch was formed and stood candidates in the state elections, winning a seat in the WA Legislative Council.[101] Shooters and Fishers candidates won two upper house seats in the 2014 Victorian state election.

The Shooters & Fishers Party stood Senate candidates in all states in the 2010 and 2013 Federal elections.[102]

Other parties[edit]

The One Nation party in 1997–98 briefly gained national prominence and had strong support from shooters. A number of minor political parties such as Liberal Democratic Party of Australia (who currently have David Leyonhjelm representing the LDP in the Australian Senate as of 2015), Outdoor Recreation Party, Country Alliance and the newly established Katter's Australian Party[103] have pro-shooter/pro-firearm platforms. Some minor parties have gained momentum from the deep resentment held by many farmers and shooters.[104]


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External links[edit]