Committee comment and recommendations
As discussed in the preceding chapters, this inquiry focussed
particularly on illicit firearms and in doing so examined a range of issues
relating to the illicit firearms market in Australia. The inquiry was
predominantly concerned with understanding the impact illicit firearms have on
the community and examining the effectiveness of current regulatory
The committee heard evidence from a range of stakeholders regarding the
composition of the illicit firearms market, the way in which firearms enter
this market and the lack of data in relation to both of these. Submitters and
witnesses also discussed the way in which the legal firearms market is
regulated and the need for registering and licensing of firearms. The emergence
of 3D manufacturing technology and the need for future regulation of this
technology were also the subject of debate during the course of the inquiry.
The committee reiterates that it was not its intention to target
law-abiding firearms owners. The committee received many submissions from
firearms owners and heard evidence at its public hearings from shooting groups.
These individuals and organisations made a valuable contribution to the
inquiry, particularly in relation to regulations currently applied to firearms
owners and the different regulatory regimes across the states and territories,
as well as concerns around the privacy of personal information. The committee
acknowledges that the majority of firearm owners do abide by the laws applying
to them and their firearms, and use their firearms in a responsible way.
Indeed, the statistics suggest there has been a decrease in the firearms death
rate in Australia (see chapters 1 and 3) and Australia has not in recent years
suffered a mass shooting of the kind seen in the United States.
Illicit firearms and their impact on the community are clearly a problem
which encompasses far more than law-abiding firearms owners. It is, however,
disingenuous to suggest that all registered firearms owners abide by the law
all the time or that no firearms owners have relationships with, or connections
to, people who seek to use firearms for illicit purposes. It would be complacent
to ignore the problems with current firearm regulation which have been raised
during the course of this inquiry and naïve to quarantine law-abiding firearms
owners from reform. The committee cannot ignore the challenges faced by law
enforcement authorities, particularly in identifying, discovering, seizing and
tracing firearms. Those challenges include issues arising from emerging 3D manufacturing
In response to some of these challenges, the remainder of this chapter
considers a number of options for reform.
The illicit firearms market
One of the clear revelations arising out of this inquiry was the lack of
accurate, comprehensive data with regard to illicit firearms in Australia. As
discussed in chapter 2, due to the insufficiency of information available, it
is difficult to make conclusions regarding the size of the illicit firearms
market or the manner in which firearms transition from the licit market to the
Size of the illicit firearms market
It is nearly impossible to estimate the size of the illicit market. This
is due largely to the inability of law enforcement authorities to determine how
many undetected firearms are illegally manufactured in or imported to Australia
(black market firearms) and to an unknown quantity of so called 'grey market'
firearms. Grey market firearms in Australia are those that became subject to
new regulation in 1996, following the Port Arthur massacre, having been legal
beforehand. The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) estimated the total number of
unaccounted firearms in the community at 260,000.
The committee accepts the evidence provided by the ACC that this is a conservative
The committee heard contested evidence about the extent to which grey
market firearms are used for illicit purposes (see chapter 2). The committee
notes the joint report of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and NSW
Premier and Cabinet on the Martin Place siege (Martin Place siege report),
which concluded that the firearm used in that incident was most likely diverted
from the grey market.
This is a tragic example of a firearm obtained from the grey market being
subsequently used for illicit purposes. The committee believes that a better
understanding of the illicit firearms market would assist in preventing such
incidents from occurring and that one way to achieve this is with more accurate
data about the diversion of firearms to the illicit market.
The committee acknowledges the challenges of obtaining accurate data about
illicit firearms but is concerned that the evidence presented during the course
of the inquiry indicates that we do not know the size of the problem. It is
clear that further measures are required to improve the quality and accuracy of
the data collected and held nationally.
Quantifying methods of diversion
Witnesses and submitters consistently presented differing views about
the source of illicit firearms and how they are diverted to the illicit market.
This is hardly surprising, given the lack of visibility over the diversion of
firearms into the illicit market, as discussed above.
As outlined in chapter 2, the committee received evidence from both the ACC
and the Australian Institute of Criminology (the AIC) regarding the
availability of data on methods of diversion. During the inquiry, submitters
and witnesses—including the ACC and AIC—identified shortcomings with this data.
For example, the ACC is responsible for maintaining the National Firearm Trace
Database (NFTD), which is based on serial number traces of registered and
unregistered firearms conducted over a limited ten year period (from 2002 to
2012) and was intended to identify at what point a firearm entered the illicit
An analysis of this data was last undertaken in 2012.
By contrast, the AIC relies on research undertaken as part of the National
Firearms Monitoring Program (NFMP) and the National Firearm Theft Monitoring
Both of these programs were only funded for a set period of time and therefore
the majority of the data focuses on the period from 2004-05 to 2008-09.
Further, data for the NFMP and NFTMP was provided by state and territory police
which were not required to provide data in a consistent, uniform and comparable
It became clear during the course of the inquiry that there is concern
among stakeholders regarding the accuracy of available data. Concerns included:
the use of alternative datasets by the AIC and ACC which rely on
different data collection methods;
the age of the data available;
the inability of the ACC to trace firearms in some circumstances;
the quality of data provided by state and territory police; and
the likelihood that owners of unregistered or illegal firearms,
or those who fail to comply with the relevant storage requirements, are less
likely to report their firearm stolen.
The cessation of the AIC's Firearm Theft in Australia series was
also the subject of concern. These reports were identified by various
submitters and witnesses as an important resource and it was suggested that funding
for these reports, previously from the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002,
should be reinstated to allow for continuation of the series.
These shortcomings in the currently available data on illicit firearms
should be addressed. While the committee does not wish to suggest that
improving the quality of data is a panacea for eliminating illicit firearms or
resolving crime and violence associated with their use, more accurate data is a
useful tool for identifying how and where law enforcement authorities should
direct their effort and resources.
The committee is therefore persuaded that both the collection methods
for, and reporting of data about firearms generally, and in particular their
movement into the illicit market, must be improved. Comprehensive and accurate
data will assist with the development of policies and regulatory arrangements,
and empower both law enforcement authorities and other stakeholders to assess
the effectiveness of those strategies. In order to achieve this, the committee
recommends that the Commonwealth government review current data collection and
The committee recommends the Commonwealth government provide funding to
allow programs, such as the National Firearms Monitoring Program and the
National Firearm Theft Monitoring Program, and reports, such as those in the Firearm
Theft in Australia series, to continue on an ongoing basis.
The committee further recommends the Australian Institute of Criminology
conduct within three years a review of current data collection and reporting
arrangements, with a particular focus on:
the need for more accurate data on firearm thefts, the recovery
of stolen firearms and seizures of illegally imported firearms;
the quality and comparability of data provided to Commonwealth
agencies by state and territory police; and
greater inter-agency co-operation with regards to data sharing.
The need for consistent regulatory standards
The need for greater consistency between state and territory
jurisdictions and the possible expansion of the Commonwealth's role in
regulating firearms were raised during the course of the inquiry. In
particular, submitters and witnesses discussed the need for consistent
regulatory standards in relation to a range of issues including the regulation
of firearm parts, accessories and ammunition; the adequacy of the current
storage requirements for firearms; the security of personal information about
firearm ownership; and the effectiveness of firearm amnesties (see chapter 4).
Some submitters discussed whether it was necessary for firearm parts to
be subject to registration.
The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) noted that while some states and
territories currently require that firearm parts be registered, the definition
of what constitutes a firearm part varies across the different jurisdictions.
The AIC noted that inconsistencies such as this had led to firearms being
diverted to the illicit market, as firearms could then be sold without barrels
The committee believes that firearm parts should be subject to the same level
of monitoring as firearms and recommends that the NFA be amended to require the
registration of firearm parts.
Different storage requirements in different states and territories have
led to unsafe practices, such as the sale of gun safes that do not comply with
the relevant legislation, and confusion as to how and where firearms should be
stored. Some submitters and witnesses advocated for uniform storage
requirements in all jurisdictions.
Reforming storage requirements so that they are consistent across the nation
would ensure that all states and territories have implemented adequate storage
arrangements and would prevent confusion or inadvertent breaches of the law
where firearm owners travel or relocate interstate.
The committee believes that the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) should
be updated to include nationally consistent standards for the storage of
firearms. These standards should reflect best practice and the highest
standards currently observed in Australia, as opposed to the lowest common
Regulation of the deactivation of firearms was raised by a number of
As discussed in chapter 3, while the majority of states and territories have
now introduced legislation requiring deactivated firearms to be registered,
others have yet to do so. The committee accepts that inconsistencies in this
area have led to cases where firearms have been diverted to the illicit market.
The Attorney-General's Department (AGD) suggested that jurisdictions should
have similar legislative requirements for the deactivation of firearms in order
to 'further restrict the movement of firearms to the illicit market'.
The committee also recommends adoption of a national standard for how firearms
are physically deactivated and understands that the Firearms and Weapons Policy
Working Group is currently working to implement this standard.
Both the LIV and AGD
highlighted that the Commonwealth government currently has a limited role in
the regulation of firearms and argued that it would be inappropriate for the
Commonwealth's role to be expanded.
The committee agrees that, given the states' and territories' current
responsibilities in this regard, they should continue to regulate firearms but
with far more consistency. The committee believes that the Commonwealth
government should provide leadership and facilitate a process to encourage nationally
consistent regulation for firearms, firearm parts and ammunition across all
states and territories.
The committee is persuaded that the best way to achieve this is by
updating the NFA. The committee notes that the Martin Place siege report
contains a similar recommendation.
The committee recommends that the National Firearms Agreement be updated
to implement nationally consistent regulation in the following areas:
firearms, firearm parts and firearm accessories;
the storage of firearms.
The security of gun ownership data was explored in chapter 4. The
committee acknowledges the need to guarantee the safety of information about
gun ownership to prevent registered owners being targeted for theft. Evidence
given during the course of the inquiry indicated that gun and shooting clubs
are not currently required to follow any particular rules or standards in
relation to the security of their membership records. The committee was alarmed
that the main protection afforded gun ownership information by these clubs
seemed to be their storage on a computer that is mostly disconnected from the
The vulnerability of gun ownership records held by gun clubs should be
rectified. The committee therefore recommends that the Commonwealth government
work with state and territory governments to establish national standards for
the security of membership data held by gun clubs.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government, together with
state and territory governments, establish national standards for the security
of membership data held by gun clubs.
The use of firearm amnesties and their effectiveness as a method of
removing firearms from the illicit markets, and especially the grey market, was
considered in chapter 4.
NSW Police raised the ability to pursue individuals and investigative
leads where a firearm used in a serious crime is forfeited and the sheer volume
of firearms to be processed as challenges posed by gun amnesties for law
The committee acknowledges the continued use of a firearm amnesty in
Tasmania and the huge number of firearms forfeited in the Australia-wide
amnesty following the tragedy at Port Arthur in 1996. The committee is of the
view that amnesties are an effective way of reducing the pool of illicit
firearms in the community and recommends that an ongoing and Australia-wide gun
amnesty should be implemented.
The committee is also cognisant of the issues described by NSW Police. With
regard to processing potentially large volumes of forfeited firearms, police
should be appropriately resourced to do so. The issue of identifying
individuals and pursuing investigative leads where a firearm used in the
commission of a serious crime is forfeited is more problematic. On the one
hand, the purpose of an amnesty is to allow people to forfeit illicit firearms
without penalty; on the other, serious crimes, particularly those where a
firearm is used, should not go unpunished. The committee is not equipped to
offer a solution to this particular problem but consideration should be given
to it in the implementation of an ongoing gun amnesty.
The committee recommends that an ongoing, Australia-wide gun amnesty is
implemented, with consideration given to ways in which this can be done without
limiting the ability of police to pursue investigative leads for serious
Registration and licensing of firearms
The committee supports the current requirements for registering and
licensing firearms and considers them necessary in preventing firearms from
being diverted to the illicit market. However, as part of its inquiry, the
committee received evidence that there are weaknesses in the current
registration and licensing systems which impact on their effectiveness. The National
Firearm Licensing and Registration System (NFLRS), which was implemented
following the adoption of the NFA, and the National Police Reference System
(NPRS) are the two main systems currently used by police to track firearms. In
particular, the NFLRS 'captures a "point-in-time picture" of firearm information
held by State and Territory police agencies' own firearm registries'.
Submitters were generally of the view that the NFLRS has a number of
CrimTrac acknowledged these and advised that the National Firearms Interface
(NFI) has been developed to replace the NFLRS.
The committee welcomes the development of the NFI and understands that
it will provide a range of benefits to law enforcement agencies, including the
ability to track a firearm over its lifespan. However, the committee is also
concerned that the NFI will still rely on information provided by the states
The committee refers to the recent Martin
Place siege report which stated that 'the information in the new system
will only be as good as the information already in the state databases' and
included a recommendation that 'State and Territory police agencies, that have
not already done so, should as a matter of urgency, audit their firearms data
and work to upgrade the consistency and accuracy of their own holdings before
transferring it to the NFI'.
The committee concurs with the recommendation of the Martin Place
siege report and supports the suggestion from the NSW Police Force for a
national approach for the registration of firearms.
It is the committee's view that there needs to be greater consistency in the
data provided by state and territory police forces regarding the registration
and licensing of firearms. The committee therefore recommends that all
jurisdictions update their firearm data holdings and transfer these to the NFI.
The committee recommends that all jurisdictions update their firearm
data holdings and ensure the data is transferred to the National Firearms
Development of 3D printed firearms
The innovation of 3D manufacturing technology and the possibilities it
offers were an interesting aspect of the inquiry.
The committee heard about the significant developments that have
occurred in this area and the opportunities it presents for Australia's
manufacturing industry. In particular, the committee recognises the benefits 3D
printing will provide to society in fields such as manufacturing, industry,
medicine, arts and design. The committee acknowledges the significance of 3D
manufacturing for many Australian industries and the potential for job
creation, innovation and entrepreneurship in the sector.
However, the committee is also concerned that this technology will allow
individuals to manufacture firearms. While submitters were generally of the
view that 3D printed firearms did not pose a high risk to the community, there
have already been cases where law enforcement authorities have uncovered
individuals using this technology to manufacture firearm parts. The committee
notes the challenges that 3D printed firearms pose for law enforcement, due to
their disposable nature and the difficulty associated with detection using
It seems that current laws pertaining to firearms would apply equally to
3D printed firearms and firearm parts. However, the LIV argued that given the
inconsistencies across the different jurisdictions regarding firearm regulation
and the rapid changes in 3D manufacturing, uniform regulations covering 3D manufacturing
should be considered.
The committee supports this view and recommends that uniform legislation
regulating the manufacture of 3D printed firearms and firearm parts be
introduced in all jurisdictions.
The committee recommends that Australian governments investigate the
requirement for uniform regulations in all jurisdictions covering the
manufacture of 3D printed firearms and firearm parts.
The committee recognises that rapid developments in 3D manufacturing technology
are likely to enable the production of metal firearms. The committee considers
it important that the government ensure that the law keeps pace with
technological advances, without stifling innovation.
Submitters were generally of the view that although some regulation of
3D printing should be implemented, over-regulation should be avoided. The
committee recognises these views and does not accept that banning the
individual use of 3D printers or introducing a character test for ownership is either
necessary or practical.
The committee recommends that Australian governments continue to monitor
potential risks associated with the manufacture of dangerous items, such as
firearms, posed by the emergence of 3D manufacturing.
The committee recommends that Australian governments continue to monitor
the risks posed by 3D manufacturing in relation to the manufacture of firearms
and consider further regulatory measures if the need arises.
Resourcing for law
The committee recognises that a number of its recommendations impose an
additional burden on law enforcement authorities and other government agencies both
at a national and state and territory level.
The committee considers that in order to implement these
recommendations, both Commonwealth and state and territory governments may
require additional resources. Further funding for law enforcement agencies
would also help ensure that these recommendations are implemented in a timely
manner. The committee therefore recommends that consideration be given to the
allocation of additional funding for this purpose.
The committee recommends that Australian governments consider committing
further funding and resourcing to assist in implementing the preceding
Hon Joe Ludwig
Senator for Queensland
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