A quarter of a century on from Australia’s deadly Port Arthur Massacre, NSW has over a million registered guns statewide.
The total number of registered guns has increased steadily by 11 per cent over the four years between 2016 and 2020, according to NSW Police data.
Greens MP David Shoebridge was concerned about the growing number.
“Guns were designed to be lethal weapons: these are instruments literally designed to kill… We now have more than a million firearms in NSW, where does it stop?”
“The key thing that gets lost when talking about gun numbers is guns aren’t bananas or even motor vehicles, they don’t wear out. Once a gun is in circulation it continues forever,” he said.
25 years since the catalyst for gun regulation
April 28 marked 25 years since 35 people were killed after a gunman opened fire at the convict historic site.
Leader of the Tasmanian State Opposition at the time of the shooting, Michael Field, said the massacre was a catalyst for the gun reforms.
“We should remember the courage of the then-Prime Minister John Howard, as well as the political leaders of all political parties that ensured the changes in gun laws passed through the federal Parliament and authorised the gun buy-back scheme,” he said.
Former Prime Minister John Howard told the ABC that he listened to the public response following the massacre.
“It was a terrible disaster; it was the largest single death toll from such an event at the hands of an individual ever… and understandably the public wanted something done,” he said.
An immediate drop and a slow incline
Following the massacre, the National Firearms Agreement (‘NFA‘) restricted the ownership of certain weapons and made it harder to get a firearms licence.
Authorities destroyed over a million guns following the change in legislation. Since then, the number of firearms has slowly crept up, back to an alarming level.
However, the evidence suggests that the initial gun reforms are still shaping ownership.
In 1997, Australia had 6.52 licenced firearm owners per 100 people. In 2020, that remained at almost half, at 3.41.
Hobart lawyer and vice-president of Gun Control Australia Roland Browne recently spoke with the ABC. He said that the essence of the NFA was intact however some states had rolled back on controls.
Mr Brown noted that in New South Wales, you can obtain a silencer with a permit.
“It’s mindless — gun laws are there to protect the safety of Australian citizens. People want to live in a society where guns are not normalised,” he told the ABC.
Hundreds of guns in your neighbourhood
Data from NSW Police show that there are hundreds of guns in your neighbourhood. The Sydney suburbs with the highest number of guns were Camden, with 8050 registered guns, and Bligh Park, with 7700 registered guns.
Even the inner city suburbs stock more arsenal than you would imagine. Bondi in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs has over 300 firearms hidden over the suburb, and even Sydney City has over 280 firearms registered.
Westerns suburbs of Parramatta and Liverpool have over 370 and over 5500 firearms respectively.
The actual number of firearms is likely to be much higher. Many unregistered firearms are coming from overseas and interstate.
Gun Control Australia executive member Tim Quinn is concerned with the growing figures.
“A lot of firearms come across borders, and we just don’t know,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “The gun could be registered in WA and ends up in NSW and then it’s unregistered here – it is up to the owner to [register it] and if they are not conscious of firearm regulations, they are not going to do that.”
In the last year from March 2020 to February 2021, Australian Border Force detected over 1,300 undeclared firearms, parts and accessories. However, this number is a 50.2 per cent decrease to the same period last year and that may be due to restricted overseas travel due to COVID.
Call to implement promise of a National Registry
University of Sydney gun control expert Associate Professor Philip Alpers advocated the implementation of a national firearms registry. He said that this would help streamline sharing of information.
Currently, each State and Territory has their own system for tracking ownership. This is despite a 1996 recommendation for a national register following the massacre.
“Ideally, a national registry would allow police to cross-reference serial numbers – like they can do with cars,” Professor Alpers said.
Assistant Minister for Home Affairs Jason Wood told the ABC he was personally supportive of a national registry.
He noted that it’s the responsibility of the state and territories and that their support was necessary in the creation of such a registry.
“When it comes to these reforms I can tell you now, the Prime Minister, or whether it be Karen Andrews (Minister for Home Affairs), all of us are very keen to see a national firearms register,” Mr Wood said.