Introduction and Background
Referral of the inquiry
On 19 June 2014, the Senate referred the following matter to the Legal
and Constitutional Affairs References Committee for inquiry and report by
2 October 2014:
The ability of Australian law enforcement authorities to
eliminate gun-related violence in the community, with reference to:
- the estimated number, distribution and lethality of
illegal guns, including both outlawed and stolen guns, in Australia;
- the operation and consequences of the illicit firearms
trade, including both outlawed and stolen guns within Australia;
- the adequacy of current laws and resourcing to enable law
enforcement authorities to respond to technological advances in gun technology,
including firearms made from parts which have been imported separately or
covertly to avoid detection, and firearms made with the use of 3D printers;
- the extent to which the number and types of guns stolen
each year in Australia increase the risk posed to the safety of police and the
community, including the proportion of gun-related crime involving legal
firearms which are illegally held;
- the effect banning semi-automatic handguns would have on
the number of illegally held firearms in Australia;
- stricter storage requirements and the use of electronic
alarm systems for guns stored in homes;
- the extent to which there exist anomalies in federal,
state and territory laws regarding the ownership, sale, storage and transit
across state boundaries of legal firearms, and how these laws relate to one
- any related matters.
On 2 September 2014, the Senate extended the committee's reporting date
to 2 December 2014.
On 24 November 2014, the Senate granted a further extension of time for
reporting until 26 March 2015.
Conduct of the inquiry
In accordance with usual practice, the committee advertised the inquiry
on its website and wrote to a number of organisations and individual
stakeholders inviting submissions by 15 August 2014. Details of the inquiry
were made available on the committee's website at www.aph.gov.au/senate_legalcon
The committee received 427 submissions, which are listed at Appendix 1.
Public hearings were held in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra on 13, 14 and
31 October 2014. A list of witnesses who appeared before the committee at
the hearings is at Appendix 2.
On 17 February 2015 the committee visited the Australian Customs and
Border Protections Detector Dog Program Facility and Objective 3D's
manufacturing facility, both based in Victoria. The committee thanks both of
these organisations for assisting the committee with its inquiry.
The committee thanks all those who made submissions and gave evidence at
its public hearings.
Note on references
References to the committee Hansard are to the proof Hansard.
Page numbers may vary between the proof and the official Hansard
Structure of the report
This report is comprised of seven chapters.
Chapter 1 provides an overview of the history of firearm regulation in
Australia and a summary of current regulatory regimes.
Chapter 2 examines the composition of the illicit firearms market in
Australia, and the various pathways by which firearms are diverted from the licit
to the illicit market.
Chapter 3 considers the impact illicit firearms and firearm-related
crime has on the Australian community.
Chapter 4 evaluates the current regulatory framework. In particular, it discusses
issues relating to the regulation of the legal firearms market, including the
need to regulate ammunition, firearm parts and accessories; the adequacy of the
current storage requirements for firearms; the effectiveness of firearm
amnesties; and the security of firearm ownership data.
Chapter 5 examines the effectiveness of existing registration and
licensing arrangements for firearms.
Chapter 6 discusses the emergence of 3D manufacturing technology and
regulatory concerns surrounding the development of 3D
Chapter 7 outlines the committee's views and recommendations.
Clarification of the purpose of this inquiry
In response to this inquiry, the committee received over 400
submissions, many of which were concerned about the impact the inquiry might
have on the ownership and use of firearms.
It is important to clarify from the outset that the main focus of this
inquiry was on illicit firearms in Australia. While some of the terms of
reference refer to regulation of registered firearms that are legally held,
this is in the context of ensuring that these are not diverted to the illicit
market. The committee appreciates that the majority of firearm owners comply
with the relevant legislation and acknowledges the work of the various firearms
organisations in promoting the safe use and storage of firearms. The committee
also recognises the number of Australians who participate in the sport of shooting.
The committee would also like to clarify the terminology used throughout
this inquiry. As noted by the Attorney-General's Department (AGD) in its
submission, firearms and firearm-related articles are not in themselves either
legal or illegal:
...regardless of the type of firearm or firearm-related
article, there will always be a situation in which it is able to be lawfully
possessed in Australia. For example, although certain firearms (such as fully
automatic firearms) are generally unable to be possessed or used by civilians,
they are able to be possessed by law enforcement, the military and private
companies engaged in activities such as research and development.
It is more accurate to state that a person's possession or
use of a particular firearm or firearm-related article is legal or illegal.
Generally, illegal possession or use would involve either possession without a
licence, without a licence that authorises possession of that particular
firearm type or possession or use in contravention of licence conditions.
In using the term 'illicit firearms', the committee is referring to
those firearms that 'were illegally imported into or illegally manufactured in
Australia, diverted from the licit market or moved from the grey market'.
Background and overview of firearm regulation in Australia
Prior to the incident at Port Arthur on 28 April 1996, in which 35
people were killed and 23 wounded by a gunman using a range of semi-automatic
weapons, gun laws in Australia were less restrictive than current laws.
In its submission, the Attorney-General's Department (AGD) discussed the
situation pre-1996, noting that a number of inconsistencies existed between the
various jurisdictions with regards to the regulation of firearms.
AGD stated that:
One of the most significant consequences of the lack of a
uniform approach to gun control in Australia was the opportunity for firearms
to be diverted to the illicit market. This was facilitated to an extent by
loopholes in legislation and regulation, lack of oversight, and low penalties
that were applied to firearm offences.
On 9 August 1987, a mass shooting took place on Hoddle Street, Clifton
Hill which resulted in the deaths of seven people, and serious injury to 19
others. Less than five months later, another mass shooting took place in
Melbourne at the Queen Street post office, which resulted in nine fatalities
and five people being injured. As a result of these incidents, the government
formed the National Committee on Violence (NCV). In its final report, released
in 1990, the NCV included a recommendation that national firearm laws be
This recommendation was not acted upon until the establishment of the 1996
National Firearms Agreement.
The 1996 National Firearms
After the events at Port Arthur, the Australasian Police Ministers'
Council (APMC) adopted the National Agreement on Firearms (NFA), which
consisted of 10 resolutions which formed a nationwide plan for the regulation
of firearms. The NFA contained the following changes:
a ban on automatic and semi-automatic long-arms other than in
nationwide registration of all firearms (expanding the existing
regulations requiring handguns to be registered to include long-arms as well);
established categories of firearm types to be used in the
licensing of firearms;
a requirement that applicants for a firearms license demonstrate
a 'genuine reason for owning, possessing or using a firearm' (for some licence
categories applicants must also demonstrate a genuine need);
the introduction of basic licence requirements: in addition to
the demonstration of 'genuine reason', a licence applicant should be aged 18
years or over, be a fit and proper person, be able to prove identity (have 100
points of original identification) and undertake an adequate safety test;
a requirement that first time licence applicants complete a
safety training course;
the introduction of grounds for licence refusal or cancellation
and seizure of firearms;
a uniform standard for the security and storage of firearms;
introduction of firearm permits and a minimum 28-day waiting
a requirement that firearms sales be conducted only by or through
licensed firearm dealers.
These reforms were implemented by the states and territories, though
some inconsistences still remained.
The NFA also contained a resolution establishing a 12 month national
amnesty period and compensation program, along with a public information
The federal government passed the National Firearms Program Implementation
Act 1996 and the Medicare Levy Amendment Act 1996, which established
the national firearms buyback program funded by a temporary increase in the Medicare
Prior to the buyback, there were approximately 3.25 million guns in
The gun buyback scheme ran from 1 October 1996 to 30 September 1997 and
resulted in the surrender of approximately 640,000 now–prohibited firearms.
The effectiveness of the buyback scheme has remained a subject of debate
In 2002, the APMC developed two new agreements: the National Handgun
Agreement 2002 (the Handgun Agreement) and the National Firearms Trafficking
Policy Agreement 2002 (the Trafficking Agreement).
The Trafficking Agreement was agreed to by APMC at its meeting in
July 2002 and was aimed at addressing the illegal firearms trade. As noted
by AGD in its submission, the agreement 'committed jurisdictions to putting in
place additional controls to address the illegal firearms trade, including the introduction
of nationally consistent rules for the legal manufacture of firearms and
tighter recording and reporting provisions for dealer transactions involving
firearms and major firearms parts'.
As a result of a shooting incident causing the death of two students at
Monash University in October 2002, the APMC agreed on a series of 28
resolutions aimed at 'restricting the use and availability of handguns through
such measures as restricting the possession of handguns based on calibre,
barrel length and magazine capacity'.
These were adopted by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in
December 2002 and formed the Handgun Agreement.
The agreed restrictions were implemented legislatively by the states and
Each state and territory agreed to amend its firearms laws by
1 July 2003 to prevent the purchase, possession and use of prohibited handguns
used for sports shooting and also those that are held as part of historical
collections. Where legislation was not already in place, the states and
territories also agreed to introduce substantial penalties for the illegal
possession of a firearm.
The federal government amended the Customs (Prohibited Imports)
Regulations 1956 to reflect the new restrictions and introduced a buyback
program for handguns that did not comply with these restrictions. The program
resulted in 70,000 handguns being surrendered.
In 2012, the states and territories reached an agreement with the
federal government with regards to further reforms. These were aimed at
targeting the illicit firearms market and included:
penalties—including a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for aggravated
- national roll-out of the Australian Ballistics
- establishing a National Firearms Interface;
- expanding the Australian Crime Commission's
Firearm Tracing Capability;
a firearm intelligence and targeting team within Customs and Border Protection;
measures to identify and target vulnerabilities in the international airstream;
- improving police responses to firearm crime;
- establishing a national campaign on unlicensed
- developing an annual illicit firearm
In order to implement these changes, the federal government passed the
Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012.
In 2014, the government introduced the Crimes Legislation Amendment
(Psychoactive Substances and Other Measures) Bill 2014, which seeks to
'introduce international firearms trafficking offences and mandatory minimum
sentences and extend existing cross-border disposal or acquisition firearms offences'.
On 15 February 2015 this Bill was passed with amendments.
Current situation regarding firearm regulation
The regulation of firearms in Australia is primarily the responsibility
of the states and territories, with the federal government's role contained to
the import and export of firearms.
As noted by AGD, 'the Commonwealth's main role in relation to the
regulation of firearms and firearm-related articles is through the control on
imports [and] exports and the use of the trade and commerce power in the
Constitution in relation to interstate movement'.
Section 51(i) of the Constitution, which deals with overseas and
interstate trade and commerce, has been relied on by the Commonwealth to
prohibit the importation of certain firearms into Australia. Regulation 4F and
Schedule 6 of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 'control the
importation of firearms, firearm accessories (silencers, certain types of
stocks and devices designed or capable of converting a firearm to semi or fully
automatic), firearm parts, firearm magazines, ammunition, components of
ammunition and imitation firearms'.
With regard to the importation of firearms, an importer may be required
to get permission from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service,
their state or territory firearms registry or AGD. This depends
on what type of firearm they are applying to import. AGD argued in its
submission that the current rules regarding importation:
...results in situations where the Commonwealth's role in the
regulation of the importation of firearms and firearm-related articles is of
limited or no value, creates anomalies and results in more red-tape
for legitimate importers.
States and territories
The states and territories have retained control over the regulation of
the sale, purchase, possession and storage of firearms (including imitation firearms).
The following relevant legislative instruments currently apply:
New South Wales: Firearms Act 1996, Firearms Regulation
2006, Weapons Prohibition Act 1998, Weapons Prohibition Regulation 2009;
Victoria: Firearms Act 1996, Firearms Regulations 2008, Control
of Weapons Act 1990, Control of Weapons Regulations 2011;
Queensland: Weapons Act 1990, Weapons Regulations 1996,
Weapons Categories Regulations 1997;
Western Australia: Firearms Act 1973, Firearms Regulations
South Australia: Firearms Act 1977, Firearms Regulations
Tasmania: Firearms Act 1996, Firearms Regulations 2006;
Northern Territory: Firearms Act, Firearms Act
Australian Capital Territory: Firearms Act 1996, Firearms
Regulation 2008, Prohibited Weapons Act 1996, Prohibited Weapons
There have been a number of recent reforms to state and territory laws.
In New South Wales, legislation was enacted in June 2012 to place
further restrictions on the sale and purchase of ammunition. In December 2012,
the New South Wales government announced that it had established a committee to
provide advice on proposed new gun control legislation that would tighten
restrictions in some areas.
In South Australia, the state Attorney-General announced a gun amnesty
campaign in June 2012, which ran from 1 August to 31 October 2012. It was
reported that 2783 weapons were surrendered to authorities during the
In Queensland, the police minister established an advisory panel in
August 2012 to examine gun laws and licensing with the aim of reducing red
tape for licensed firearms owners, generating a strong negative response from
the Queensland Police Union.
The Queensland government also introduced amending legislation in November 2012
to introduce new mandatory minimum penalties for weapons offences 'in an effort
to address the unlawful use of firearms'. At the same time, the government
announced a gun amnesty for people to either hand in or register their
firearms. The bill was passed in December 2012.
Australian laws regarding the regulation of firearms are 'stricter than
that of a number of comparable countries':
... in contrast to the
position in the United States, there is no legal right to gun ownership. Owning
and using a firearm is limited in Australia to people who have a genuine reason
and self-protection does not constitute a genuine reason to possess, own or use
a firearm. Secondly, the Australian system requires both the licensing of
individual shooters and the registration of each firearm. In contrast,
countries such as New Zealand and Canada broadly speaking only require shooters
to obtain a license, which enables them to freely purchase firearms appropriate
to that licence.
However, the majority of studies examining the NFA's impact on gun
violence in Australia have concluded that the reforms 'have been responsible
for substantial reductions in the Australian firearm death rate and have also
put an end to mass shooting'.
In examining Australia's firearm reforms, Ms Lauren Hirsh argued that
cumulatively these studies provide strong evidence that Australia's firearm
reforms have been effective:
The most comprehensive study into the effects of the reforms,
conducted by Leigh and Neill in 2010, found a 65% decline in the firearm
homicide rate and a 59% decline in the firearm suicide rate in the decade
following the implementation of the NFA, with no parallel increase in rates of
non-firearm related homicides or suicides. These authors also demonstrated a
strong causal relationship between the NFA and these declines. Their research
showed that the NFA was responsible for a 36% decline in the firearm homicide
rate and a 74% decline in the firearm suicide rate.
Current data reveals that the Australian firearm death rate
has today been reduced to 1/100 000, which is less than half of the 1996 rate
and one tenth of the current US rate. Likewise, the Australian firearm homicide
rate, which was already one fifteenth of the US rate prior to Port Arthur, has
been reduced to one twenty-seventh of that rate today.
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