- Gun politics in Australia
Many Australians (765,000 or 5.2% of Australian adults as of August 2007 [cite web
title = Licensees and Registered Firearms in Australia(SSAA report)
url= http://www.ssaa.org.au/newssaa/political%20archive/graphs/LicenseesRegisteredFirearms.jpg|accessdate = 2007-04-18] ) legally own and use
firearms for hunting, the control of feral animals, and target shooting. Low levels of violent crimethrough much of the 20th century kept levels of Government concern about firearms low. However, in the last two decades, following several mass killings and rising concern, Australian State Governments have, with Federal Government co-ordination, enacted more restrictive firearms legislation.
Current Australian firearm laws
The possession and use of firearms in Australia is governed by state laws which were partly aligned by the 1996 National Firearms Agreement (see below). Anyone wishing to buy, own, or use a firearm must have a Firearms Licence and be over the age of 18, although there are exceptions. In Queensland, unlicensed individuals may use firearms legally if the proper forms are filled out beforehand. Minors, with parental consent, can use, but not legally own, firearms under a minors' licence. Applicants for a firearms licence who wish to own a firearm must have a secure safe storage unit for their firearm/s. For category A, B and C firearms, this unit must either be bolted to the structure of a permanent building or have a weight over 150 kilograms. If the storage units is used for storing category D, H and R firearms, however, it must be bolted to a permanent building.
For every firearm, a purchaser must obtain a Permit To Acquire. The first permit for each person has a mandatory 28 day delay before it is issued. In some states, such as Queensland, this is waived for second and subsequent firearms of the same class, whilst in others, such as New South Wales, it is not. For each firearm a "Genuine Reason" must be given, relating to pest control, hunting, target shooting, or collecting. Self-defence is not accepted as a reason for issuing a licence.
Each firearm in Australia must be registered to the owner by serial number. Some states (eg QLD and NSW) allow an owner to store or borrow another owner's firearm of the same category; others (eg WA) do not.
Firearms in Australia are grouped into Categories with different levels of control. The categories are:
* Category B:
centrefirerifles (not semi-automatic), muzzleloading firearms made after 1 January 1901.
* Category C: semi-automatic rimfire rifles holding 10 or fewer rounds and pump-action or semi-automatic shotguns holding 5 or fewer rounds. (Restricted: only primary producers, occupational shooters, collectors and professional sporting shooters can own working Category C firearms)
* Category D: semi-automatic centrefire rifles, pump-action/semi-automatic shotguns holding more than 5 rounds (Category D Firearms are restricted to occupational shooters [http://www.police.qld.gov.au/programs/weaponsLicensing/general/reasons.htm] .)
* Category H:
handguns including air pistols, deactivated handguns and firearms not exceeding 65 cm in total length. Target shooters can acquire handguns of .38" calibreor less.
(Participants in "approved" competitions may acquire handguns up to .45", currently
Single Action Shootingand Metallic Silhouette. IPSC shooting is not "approved" for the larger calibres, for unstated reasons. Category H barrels must be at least 100mm (3.94") long for revolvers, and 120mm (4.72") for semi-automatic pistols, and magazines are restricted to 10 rounds. Handgun collectors are exempt from the laws stated above.)
* Category R/E: restricted weapons:
machine guns, rocket launchers, assault rifles, flame-throwers, anti-tank guns, Howitzers, artillery, .50-calibre BMG weapons, etc. (Collectors in some states only, weapons must be comprehensively deactivated. Deactivated firearms are still subject to the same storage and licensing requirements as 'live' firearms in many states.)
Antique firearms can in some states be legally bought, owned (and, in some states, used) without licences. In other states they are subject to the same requirements as modern firearms.
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 license, so long as the firearm is registered.
Australia is unusual in restricting air pistols and
airsoftpistols extremely heavily. All airsoft firearms must have a unique Serial number that is registered with the state and federal government. Airsoft firearms are legal in some states on a Category A licence, but only Bolt action Rifle airsoft firearms are legal for sale as well as ownership.
History of firearms in Australia
Firearms were first 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. There were a number of massacres of aborigines and some of settlers and explorers. The history of these conflicts is contentious (see
colonistsalso used firearms in conflict with bushrangers; in duels, the last in 1854; in armed rebellions, such as the Castle Hill convict rebellionin 1804 and the 1854 Eureka rebellion. The Eureka Stockadein 1854 arose as a result of Government and police abuses against gold miners. A large force of police and soldiers assaulted the miners stockade. Six soldiers and twenty-two miners were killed. A strong volunteer militarytradition was established, and Australians learned to value marksmanshipboth as a strategic military asset, and as a sport.
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'. [Christopher Halls 1974, Guns In Australia, Paul Hamlyn Pty Ltd Dee Why NSW]
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. 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. [ [http://www.nraa.com.au/ National Rifle Association of Australia] ] The highest trophy shows the significance of this sport to the nation: the Queen's Prize.
Game animals, in particular rabbits and
kangaroos, provided an important source of food and income for rural Australians. From settlement through into the 1970s Australian and immigrant families developed new land farms, and hunting provided security of food supply in sometimes desperate economic circumstances.
Federation and The Rise of Regulation in the 20th Century
Gun laws were the responsibility of each Colony and since Federation in 1901, of each State. The Commonwealth has no constitutional authority in this areaFact|date=February 2008, but it controls imports and military matters, and the external affairs power can be used to enforce internal control over matters agreed in external treaties.
Through the 1920s; Australia, Canada and Great Britain were concerned about the rise of
Communismin light of the Bolshevik Revolutionin Russia, and imposed restrictions on handguns [cite web
author = Cramer, Clayton | year = 1997 | title = Fear and Loathing in Whitehall: Bolshevism and the Firearms Act of 1920; paper presented to American Society of Criminology conference, San Diego, November 1997.
url= http://www.claytoncramer.com/firear~1.htm|accessdate = 2007-10-18] . These restrictions have increased over the succeeding decades. In New South Wales, handguns were effectively banned after
World War IIbut 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 considerably less restricted in Australia. State gun laws varied widely. In Western Australia and the Northern Territory restrictions were severe even for sporting rifles and shotguns, while in Queensland and Tasmania longarms could be bought without restrictions.
Fully-automatic arms have been banned in the Australian mainland since the 1930s, but remained legal in Tasmania until 1996.
In the 1940s and 1950s,
Cold Warconcerns about ex-military rifles falling into the hands of communist radicals led a number of states to place restrictions on the legal ownership of rifles of a military calibre (see: .303/25) while at the same time, allowed firearm owners who are members of rifle clubs and military rifle clubs to own ex-military rifles. The Australian state of New South Walesis a prime example of these laws that were introduced in Australia during the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1970s and 1980s these restrictions were relaxed 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 1980s, the relative popularity of shooting and the prevalence of firearms in the community began to fall as social attitudes changed and urbanisation increased.
1984 - 1996 Multiple Killings
From 1984 to 1996, multiple killings focused public attention on guns. The 1984
Milperra massacrewas a major incident in a series of conflicts between various ' outlaw motorcycle gangs'. (These gangs are a major component of organised crime in Australia and continue to arm themselves illegally.) In 1987, the Hoddle Street massacreand the Queen Street massacretook place in Melbourne. In response, several states required the registration of all guns, and restricted the availability of self-loading rifles and shotguns. The Strathfield massacrefollowed in New South Wales in 1991, where two were killed with a knife, then five more with a firearm. Tasmania passed a law in 1991 for firearm purchasers to obtain a license, though enforcement was light. Firearm laws in Tasmaniaand Queenslandremained relatively relaxed for longarms. In 1995, Tasmania had the second lowest rate of homicides per head of population.
Shooting massacres in Australia and other English-speaking countries often occurred close together. Forensic psychiatrists attribute this to copycat behaviour, [Mullen, Paul quoted in Hannon K 1997, “Copycats to Blame for Massacres Says Expert”, Courier Mail, 4/3/1997] [Cantor, Mullen and Alpers, 2000 Mass homicide: the civil massacre. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 28:1:55-63.] which is in many cases triggered by sensational media treatment. [Phillips, D. P. 1980. Airplane accidents, murder, and the mass media: Towards a theory of imitation and suggestion. Social Forces, 58, 1001-1024.] [Cialdini, Robert 2001. Influence: Science and Practice 4th Ed. Allyn and Bacon, pp121-130.] Mass murderers study media reports and imitate the actions and equipment that are sensationalised in them. [Cramer, C 1993. Ethical problems of mass murder coverage in the mass media. Journal of Mass Media Ethics 9.]
The Port Arthur massacre and its consequences
The Port Arthur massacre in 1996 transformed gun control thinking in Australia. Thirty six people were killed when
Martin Bryantopened fire on tourists with two military-style semi-automatic rifles: an AR-15and an L1A1 SLR. These weapons were of a type that was legal to possess in Tasmania at the time, but Bryant was ineligible for a firearm license and acquired the firearms illegally Fact|date=May 2008.
The massacre of 35 people at the notorious former convict prison at Port Arthur just weeks after the
Dunblane massacrein Scotland traumatised the Australian community. As the Australian Constitution required each Australian State and Territory to enact gun laws, Prime Minister John Howard, then newly elected, took existing gun reform proposals (drafted by Police Ministers meetings since the report of the 1988 National Committee on Violence [http://aic.gov.au/publications/proceedings/12/chappell.pdf] ) to enact much tighter firearm controls. Public feeling after the Port Arthur shootings overwhelmed the opposition from gun owners' organisations and sweeping changes were enacted in all states. This included mandatory gun licences, registration of all firearms, and a near-complete ban on all semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and all pump-action shotguns. Some farmers and professional cullers could own certain semi-automatic rifles and shotguns but most licenced firearm owners (including international sports shooters) were banned from legally acquiring and owning these firearms for recreational target shooting and hunting.
There was a heated public debate, between those who believed guns should be removed, and those who believed the proposed laws would be ineffective and overly restrictive for the legal firearm owners affected by the ban. The governments of two states, Tasmania and Queensland, objected to some of the changes, causing John Howard to threaten them with a constitutional referendum to transfer power over gun laws to the federal government.Fact|date=April 2007 The Federal Government also threatened to cut off federal funding to the states and territories and retract its offer to help the states extinguish
Native Titleclaims if they didn't support the proposed laws.Fact|date=April 2007 Opinion polls taken at the time indicated support for even more gun restrictions.Fact|date=April 2007 Faced with the force of public opinion which could have carried the referendum, the two objecting states were forced to agree without any compromises or concessions to the new laws, which were duly enacted.
There was a series of public meetings to persuade farmers and sporting shooters to accept the proposed changes. In the first of these, Mr. Howard, acting on the advice of his ministers, wore a bullet-resistant vest whilst addressing the meeting. The vest was visible in photographs and this led to an outcry from gun supporters who condemned Mr. Howard for implying that civilian gun-owners were dangerous. In response, the Hon. I. Cohen stated "...It would have been irresponsible of him had he not heeded the advice of those who said he should protect himself." [Cite hansard |url=http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/hansart.nsf/V3Key/LC19960625036 | house= Parliament of New South Wales Legislative Council | date=
The American National Rifle Association's, move to support Australian gun advocates was roundly condemned by Australian Federal Attorney General Daryl Williams. [cite web |url=http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=15322 |title=Australia shoots back at NRA |publisher=WorldNetDaily.com |date=
The Federal Government put a 1% levy on
income taxfor one year to finance the "buy back" purchase and destruction of all semi-automatic rifles including .22 rimfires, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns. Although only one state published statistics, it appears that 5% of the destroyed guns were of the military style, the remainder being sporting and farmers' working firearms.Fact|date=April 2007 The high cost ($A500 million) of this exercise raised opposition from shooter groups, such as the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, which argued that the "buy back" had failed to improve public safety. [ [http://www.ssaa.org.au/newssaa/political%20archive/recentssaareseached/What%27shappeninginTasmania.pdf Did the 1996 firearm legislation really make a difference just what is happening in Tasmania ] ]
Monash University shootings
Laws remained static until 2002, when a
pistol-owning international student killed two fellow students at Monash Universityin Victoria. This prompted a re-examination of existing handgun laws, although some remained angry that a non-citizen had obtained a license and so many firearms in the short period alleged.
As in 1996, the federal government prompted state governments to review handgun laws, and, as a result, amended legislation was adopted in all states and territories. Key changes included a 10-round magazine capacity limit, a calibre limit of not more than .38
inches (9.65 mm), a firearm barrel length limit of not less than 120 mm (4.72 inches) for semi-automatic pistolsand 100 mm (3.94 inches) for revolvers, and more strict sporting requirements for handgun purchases.Fact|date=April 2007 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 Silhouetteor Single Action Shooting matches. These new laws were opposed by sporting shooters groups.
The new changes had an enormous impact on attitudes to gun ownership in Australia. Due to the universal registration of pistols and their owners, affected shooters complied, and were often able to change magazines and barrels to comply with the new legislation. One of the government policies was to compensate shooters for giving up the sport. Approximately 25% of pistol shooters took this offer, and relinquished their licenses and their right to own pistols for sport.Fact|date=April 2007 This compensated confiscation was criticised by sporting shooters groups. In the state of Victoria $A21 million was spent "buying back" 18,124 firearms, while in the same period Victorians imported 15,184 firearms to replace their confiscated target pistols.Fact|date=April 2007
Measuring the effects of firearms laws in Australia
Historically, Australia has had relatively low levels of violent crime. Overall levels of
homicideand suicidehave remained relatively static 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%.cite book | author=Mouzos, Jenny and Rushforth, Catherine| title=Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No. 269: Firearm related deaths in Australia, 1991-2001|publisher = Australian Institute of Criminology|year= 2003| id=ISBN 0-642-53821-2; ISSN 0817-8542|url=http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/tandi2/tandi269t.html ]
In 1997, the Prime Minister appointed the Australian Institute of Criminology to analyse of the effects of the gun buyback. Since then, a number of papers have been published reporting trends and statistics around legal gun ownership and gun crime, which they have found to be mostly related to illegally-held firearms. In 2003, a sporting shooters' organisation argued that no benefit-cost analysis of the "buyback" has been published. [cite journal | author=CLASS | title=Science in the Service of Politics| journal= | year= 2003| pages = | volume= | url= http://www.c-l-a-s-s.net/ScienceServes.htm] In 2007, researchers at the Australian National University reported "There were on average 250 fewer firearm deaths per year after the implementation of the National Firearms Agreement than would have been expected," There was a reduction in both murders and suicides. This report criticised an earlier report from two shooters' organisations on methodological grounds, [cite journal | author=John Garnaut | title=Gun laws credited as lifesavers| journal= Brisbane Times | url=http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/news/national/gun-laws-credited-as-lifesavers/2007/04/22/1177180487704.html] . The Sporting Shooters' Association of Australia disputes these claims.
Sporting Shooters Association of Australiaargues that there is no evidence that in gun control restrictions in 1987, 1996 and 2002 had any impact on this already established trend. [ [http://www.ssaa.org.au/newssaa/breakingnews/august2005/Trouble%20in%20Paradise.pdf Trouble in Paradise] , SSAA presentation at Goroka Gun Summit, 2005] [ [http://www.ssaa.org.au/newssaa/pressreleases/pr04-11-04.doc The impact of gun-control laws called into question] , SSAA media release, November 2004] An interpretation of the statistics by the head of the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn, [in Wainwright, Robert. " [http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/gun-laws-fall-short-in-war-on-crime/2005/10/28/1130400366681.html Gun laws fall short in war on crime] ", Sydney Morning Herald, 29 October 2005.] noted that the level of legal gun ownership in New South Wales increased in recent years. In 2006, the lack of any measurable effect from the 1996 firearms legislation was confirmed using a statistical method ( ARIMA), in a peer-reviewed article in the British Journal of Criminology by academics Dr Jeanine Baker (SSAA) and Dr Samara McPhedran (Women in Shooting and Hunting). [cite journal | last = Baker
first = Jeanine
coauthors = & McPhedran, Samara
title = Gun Laws and Sudden Death: Did the Australian Firearms Legislation of 1996 Make a Difference?
journal = British Journal of Criminology
issue = | pages = 455
url = http://bjc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/azl084v1
doi = 10.1093/bjc/azl084] Prominent Australian criminologist Don Weatherburn described the Baker & McPhedran article as "reputable" and "well-conducted" and stated that the available data are insufficient to draw stronger conclusions. [ [http://www.abc.net.au/rn/lawreport/stories/2006/1776336.htm# Interview with Damien Carrick] , The Law Report,
ABC Radio National, 31 October 2006] Weatherburn noted the importance of policing illegal firearm possession and argued that it should not be necessarily concluded that relaxing restrictions would not affect the homicide rate. [cite news|title=Study No Excuse to shoot down the law|author=Don Weatherburn|date=2006-10-16|accessdate=2006-11-21|work= Sydney Morning Herald|publisher= John Fairfax Holdings|url=http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/study-no-excuse-to-shoot-down-the-law/2006/10/25/1161749188302.html]
Some researchers have claimed a dramatic effect on firearm deaths, by counting the drop in firearm suicides and ignoring the fact that non-firearm suicides also began falling from 1997 onwards. One such author is Ozanne-Smith et el. (2004) in the journal Injury Prevention [cite journal | last = Ozanne-Smith
first = J
coauthors =, K Ashby, S Newstead, V Z Stathakis and A Clapperton
title = "Firearm related deaths: the impact of regulatory reform"
journal = Prevention 2004;10:280-286] .
A study co-authored by Professor Simon Chapman, former convenor of the Coalition for Gun Control, argued that the laws have prevented mass shootings, pointing out in the 18 years prior to the Port Arthur massacre there were 13 mass shootings and in the decade since 1996 there have been none. [Injury Prevention, vol 12 p 365] . However, there is no reliable statistical evidence to support this claim and no analysis was presented by Chapman to uphold his arguments.
The most recently published peer-reviewed research has shown that the results of the previous published studies on gun laws in Australia all point in the same direction, even though the conclusions differ, and that none of the studies have found an impact of the gun laws on homicide [http://www.cjcj.org/pdf/the_impact.pdf] .
In the year 2002/2003, over 85% of firearms used to commit murder were unregistered. [http://www.ssaa.org.au/newssaa/pressreleases/pr190405.pdf Gun Prohibitionists Off Target] , SSAA media release, April 2005] In 1997-1999, more than 80% of the handguns confiscated were never legally purchased or registered in Australia.cite book | author= Mouzos, Jenny | title= Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No. 151: The licensing and registration status of firearms used in homicide| publisher =
Australian Institute of Criminology| year= 2000| id=ISBN 0-642-24162-7; ISSN 0817-8542 | url=http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi151.html] Knives are used up to 3 times as often as firearms in robberies. [cite book | author= Ogilvie, Emily| title= Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No. 159: Knives and armed robbery| publisher = Australian Institute of Criminology| year=2000 | id= ISBN 0-642-24175-9; ISSN 0817-8542 | url= http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi159.html] The majority of firearm related deaths involved the use of hunting rifles, with their share being most pronounced in firearm suicides.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics [http://www.abs.gov.au] , in 1985-2000, 78% of firearm deaths in Australia were suicides, yet only 5% of suicides involved firearms. The suicide rate has only fluctuated, not statistically changed, from 1993-2003. However, recent published studies such as www.gunfacts.be [http://www.gunfacts.be] indicate an important increase of the suicide rate for adult men, in the 3 years after the introduction of the strict gun legislation. In the 5 years following the introduction of the strict gun legislation, 427 extra suicides took place compared to the suicide rate of 1996.
The number of guns stolen has fallen dramatically from 4,000 per yearcite book | author= Mouzos, Jenny| title=Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No. 230: Firearms theft in Australia | publisher =
Australian Institute of Criminology| year= 2002| id=ISBN 0-642-24265-8; ISSN 0817-8542 | url=http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi230.html ] to 664 in a six-month period in 2005cite book | author= Mouzos, Jenny & Sakurai, Yuka | title=Firearms theft in Australia : a six-month exploratory analysis | publisher = Australian Institute of Criminology| year= 2006| id=ISBN 0-642-53885-9; ISSN 1445-7261 | url=http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/tbp/tbp020/ ] . This is because of efforts by police and shooting bodies to encourage secure storage of guns. 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, and while only a small proportion of those firearms are recovered, only about 3% will afterward be connected to an actual crime.
Concern has been raised about the number of smuggled pistols reaching Australia, particularly in New South Wales.
Major players in gun politics in Australia
tate Governments and State Police
Firearms laws are the responsibility of State Governments, and usually these Governments act on the recommendations of their Police services in firearms matters. Before 1996, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia all had different laws, no licence was needed for long guns in Queensland, and licences were only introduced for long guns in Tasmania in 1991. Western Australia and the Northern Territory had severe restrictions, especially on centrefire semi-automatic firearms.
Since 1996 all States subscribe to the National Agreement on Firearms (NAF). The NAF was instituted through the Australian Police Ministers Conference, as a Federal intervention over-riding major differences in State laws.
The Federal Government
The Federal Government under the Coalition strongly favoured gun control and, legislation has steadily become more restrictive. Despite his strong support for the USA on many other issues, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard frequently referred to the USA to explain his opposition to civilian firearms ownership and use in Australia. He has often said in interviews and prepared speeches that he does not want Australia to go "down the American path". [ [http://www.guncite.com/LATimesASW/weapon4a.htm Los Angeles Times Special Report] "Australia's Answer to Carnage: a Strict Law", Jeff Brazil and Steve Berry, 27 August 1997.] [ [http://www.pm.gov.au/news/interviews/1998/3awmitch.htm Radio 3AW] John Howard radio interview, 20 March 1998.] [ [http://www.australianpolitics.com/news/2002/05/02-05-29.shtml John Howard's address to the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia] , Canberra, 28 May 2002.] In one interview on Sydney radio station
2GBhe 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". [ [http://www.pm.gov.au/news/interviews/2002/interview1600.htm Interview with Philip Clark] , Radio 2GB, 17 April 2002] In a television interview shortly before the tenth 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". [ [http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=89123 National Nine News] John Howard interview, 1 March 2006.] During the same television interview, Prime Minister 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". On the day before the anniversary, as media attention intensified, Howard publicly foreshadowed the possibility of further restrictions on legal handgun ownership. [cite news | first=Dennis | last=Shanahan | title=PM urges renewed assault on handguns |date=27 April 2006 | publisher= The Australian|url=http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,18942664-2702,00.html] .
Gun control has been a source of some friction between the National Party and the Liberal Party, who together formed the coalition Federal Government from 1996 to 2007. The National Party has strong support from rural voters, some of whom are opposed to the Federal government's moves towards gun control. The 1996 National Firearms Agreement has been attributed with causing the defeat of the National Party in the 1998 Queensland elections, leading to the rise of the
One Nation Party. [ [http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2005/s1445086.htm Interview with Lisa Millar] , ABC Radio, 24 August 2005]
In the November 2007 Federal election, the
Australian Labor Partyreplaced the Liberal Party in government. The new Prime Minister Kevin Ruddhas personally indicated his support for the shooting sports (due to Rudd being a former clay target shooter and the Belmont shooting complex being located within Rudd's Brisbane electorate) but Labor's direction as a whole remains to be seen.
Gun control groups
Gun control groups in Australia have very few active members but a high media profile. The main focus of these groups is on tightening firearm controls, reducing legal gun ownership in the hope of reducing the number of firearm-related deaths in Australia.
Active lobbying in Australia is conducted by two main groups:
Gun Control Australiaand the National Coalition for Gun Control (NCGC). The most recent written material comes from Ms. Samantha Lee, who was until 2006 the chair of the NCGC. She is now working within the NSW Attorney-General's Department. Her main written contribution to gun control debate is her Churchill fellowship report [cite paper| author=Lee, Samantha | title=Handguns: Laws, Violence and Crime in Australia | publisher=Churchill Fellowship Research Paper | year=2003|url=http://churchilltrust.com.au/Fellows%20Reports/Lee%20Samantha%202003.pdf] . In it she argued that current handgun legislation is too loose. She cited statistics showing that handgun crime is rising, and that the types of handguns used in crime are legally available. Lee also argued that police officers who enjoy recreational shooting have a conflict of interest, and that licensed private firearm ownership "per se" presents a threat to women, and children in particular. [cite journal | author=Liverani, Mary Rose | title= Maintaining a watching brief on gun control – Activist adds law studies to her arsenal| journal= Journal of the Law Society of New South Wales| month= July | year= 2005| pages = | volume= | url= http://www.lawsociety.com.au/JournalSearch/JournalArticle.aspx?ArticleId=45506] Ms Lee was joined by Mr Roland Browne as the co-chair of the NCGC, apparently in late 2005 or early 2006. In April 2006, around the tenth anniversary of the Port Arthur Massacre, Browne advocated further restrictions on handguns. [ cite news | first=Phillip | last=Coorey | title=Howard's sights set on reducing gun ownership|date=27 April 2006 | publisher= Sydney Morning Herald| url=http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/howard-aims-to-reduce-gun-ownership/2006/04/26/1145861419468.html] [ [http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2006/s1624794.htm Interview with Barney Porter] , ABC radio, 27 April 2006] Previous chairs of the NCGC include Rebecca Peters[cite news | first=Rebecca|last=Peters| title=Nations disarm as laws tighten (opinion)|date=28 April 2006|publisher= The Australian|url=http://theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,18950038-7583,00.html] and Tim Costello[cite news | first=Phillip|last=Hudson|title=Handgun curbs on the way|date=25 October 2002|publisher= The Age|url=http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/10/24/1035416935873.html]
The NCGC has no website or public contact details and does not solicit public membership. Gun Control Australia maintains a website and has an office in Ross House in Flinders Lane in Melbourne.
ports Shooting associations
While shooting clubs have existed in Australia since the mid 1800s, their activity in the political arena is mostly in response to increasing restrictions. Firearms advocacy is mainly concerned with protecting the viability of
huntingand the shooting sports, rather than keeping firearms for self-defence.
In Australia, firearm advocacy organisations have never approached the strength of the National Rifle Association in the United States and political sympathisers are quite discreet in their support.
Australian shooters typically feel that their sport is under permanent threat from increasingly restrictive legislationFact|date=July 2008.
John Howardin particular was frequently portrayed, especially in shooters' literature, as having a vendetta against shooters and legal gun ownership in general. Shooters have often argued that licensed firearm owners were made scapegoatsby politicians, the media, and the anti-gun movement for the acts of criminals, most often committed with illegal firearms. Firearms advocacy groups argue that there is no evidence that increasing restrictions have improved public safety, despite the high financial costs and regulatory barriers imposed on shooters in Australia.
Firearms advocacy groups are active in debating gun control policy in the public arena. For instance, Dr. Jeanine Baker of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (SSAA) stated that Samantha Lee's Churchill Report (above) contained numerous factual errors, and ignored the Australian Institute of Criminology data indicating that 85% of firearms homicides were committed with illegally-held firearms. [ [http://www.ssaa.org.au/newssaa/political%20archive/recentssaareseached/ChurchillReportFinal.pdf Churchill Report Briefing paper] , SSAA web site] This and other similar statistics are central to the position of shooters who argue that efforts to reduce firearms crime by restricting the lawful possession of firearms are misdirected.
The largest organisation of firearms owners is the
Sporting Shooters Association of Australia. In 2008, the SSAA appointed journalist and media manager Tim Bannister as the Association’s Federal Parliamentary lobbyist. [ [http://www.ssaa.org.au/capitalnews/capital-news.html Capital News] , SSAA National, Accessed 25 June 2008. ]
There are also a number of other groups which cater for different markets, such as Field and Game Australia, the National Rifle Association of Australia. Other organisations such as Target Rifle Victoria, Victorian Amateur Pistol Association and the Victorian Clay Target Association have produced medal winning performances at the Olympics in shotgun, and in the Commonwealth Games in rifle, pistol and shotgun.
The Combined Firearms Council of Victoria was created a month before the 2002 Victorian State Election after a double murder at Monash University which saw a clampdown on handguns, and ran advertisements in that election. It secured the establishment of the Firearms Consultative Committee in 2005 which oversaw several changes to firearms legislation that benefited handgun users and gun collectors.
It made voting recommendations at the 2002 Victorian State Election and the 2006 Victorian State Election. The landslide victory of the Australian Labor Party in 2002 made it difficult to provide a meaningful analysis of the impact of the shooters' vote. The CFCV supported a number of specific candidates rather than certain political parties, including four of the six ALP MPs elevated to the front bench after the election.
In addition, other activist groups such as the New South Wales based Coalition of Law Abiding Sporting Shooters (CLASS) and Women in Shooting and Hunting (WISH) engage in activism on behalf of firearms ownership. CLASS was formed to overcome a perceived limitation in the major organisations, which are primarily sporting associations.
Shooters Partyis a political party in New South Wales that states it "represent [s] the rights of law abiding firearms owners and users". [ [http://www.shootersparty.org.au/ Shooters Party website] . Accessed 6 September 2007.] 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 Legislative Council.
A number of minor political parties such as
Liberal Democratic Party of Australia, Outdoor Recreation Party, One Nation Partyand Country Alliancehave had candidates who have supported firearm usage more overtly than the majority of candidates belonging to the major parties.
"Weapons Act 1990" (Qld)
"Weapons Regulation 1996" (Qld)
"Weapons Categories Regulation 1997" (Qld)
* [http://www.guncontrol.org.au/ Gun Control Australia]
* [http://www.ssaa.org.au/ Sporting Shooters Association of Australia]
* [http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi116.html 1999 government report] Firearm-related violence: the impact of the Nationwide Agreement on Firearms
* [http://www.c-l-a-s-s.net/ Coalition of Law-Abiding Sporting Shooters]
* [http://www.c-l-a-s-s.net/spinning_a_tale.htm CLASS article] Highlighting alleged media and government bias in the gun debate
* [http://www.police.qld.gov.au/programs/weaponsLicensing/general/obtaining.htm Obtaining A Weapons Licence] Details from the Queensland Police Service about obtaining a Weapons Licence in Queensland
* [http://www.shootersparty.org.au/ Shooters Party]
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