REPORT BY A MAJORITY OF SENATORS ATTENDING THE INQUIRY
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
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 the report of the majority Senators of the committee who
actually attended hearings and private meetings of the committee and is
presented as a majority-alternative to the Chair/Labor's Report of the Legal
and Constitutional Affairs References Committee's inquiry into the ability of
Australian law enforcement authorities to eliminate gun-related violence in the
It is endorsed by Senators from the Liberal Party, National Party and
Liberal Democratic Party, comprising a majority of those who attended the
Committee's hearings (The Majority).
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 and in hunting.
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.
Its submission asserted 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 implemented.
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 confiscation with compensation program (commonly known as
a buyback) funded by a temporary increase in the Medicare levy.
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 confiscation
with compensation 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:
tougher penalties—including a maximum penalty of life
imprisonment for aggravated firearm trafficking;
national roll-out of the Australian Ballistics Identification
establishing a National Firearms Interface;
expanding the Australian Crime Commission's Firearm Tracing
establishing a firearm intelligence and targeting team within
Customs and Border Protection;
establishing measures to identify and target vulnerabilities in
the international airstream;
improving police responses to firearm crime;
establishing a national campaign on unlicensed firearms; and
developing an annual illicit firearm intelligence assessment.
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.
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 formal role
limited 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
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 firearms 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 an 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.
Ms Lauren Hirsh argued that a 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 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 per cent decline in the
firearm homicide rate and a 59 per cent 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 per cent decline in
the firearm homicide rate and a 74 per cent decline in the firearm suicide
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.
A number of other submissions argued the opposite, that Australia's
firearm law reforms had made no difference to the firearm death rate. Among
them, Mr Tom Vangelovski noted that:
While ignoring that the overall Australian homicide rates has
remained statistically stable at its historical rate since 1915, gun control
advocates have claimed that homicide by firearm has decreased (implying that
being murdered by other means is somehow preferable).
He also noted:
Another important comparison is Australia's violent crime
rate to that of individual American states (Figure 4). Vermont has some of the
most liberal gun laws in the US, in that they virtually do not exist. Its
residents are free to own and use whatever firearms they deem necessary, so
long as they are not misused for criminal purposes. However, its violent crime
rates are radically lower than Australia's Its homicide rate is the same (at
1.3 per 100.000). Overall, you are 1.5 times more likely to be the victim of a
home invasion, 3.5 times more likely to be robbed, 4 times more likely to be
raped and 8 times more likely to be assaulted than in Vermont.
Another interesting comparison is Texas. While its gun laws
are much more liberal than Australia's, they are slightly more stringent than
in Vermont. However, even in Texas you are 2.5 times less likely to be the
victim of a violent crime than in Australia.
Dr Samara McPhedran noted :
A useful demonstration of how prohibition can be expected to
impact illicit firearms use is found in the United Kingdom (UK). In 1997, the
UK banned private ownership of all cartridge ammunition handguns (whether
semi-automatic or otherwise).
As such, the UK provides real-world data about the impact that
a 'prohibition policy' can be expected to have on illegal firearms use. This
information is particularly valuable because it is drawn from an applied
setting, rather than being based on theory or statistical modelling.
Because all legal handgun ownership was banned, rather than
just certain types of handgun, the UK policy also represents a “maximum policy
impact” scenario – that is, the greatest effect that could be reasonably
expected to arise from prohibition.
If the policy was successful, then it would be expected that
the number of recorded crimes in the UK involving the use of handguns would
decline sharply after 1997.
Handgun crimes rose sharply after total prohibition of legal
ownership, reaching a peak in the early 2000s. The number of handgun crimes has
consistently remained higher than it was at the time of handgun prohibition.
Even allowing for the possibility of a 'lag' between policy
implementation and policy impact, it is obvious that the prohibition policy did
not impact on illicit possession and use of handguns. According to the Home
Office, from 2001/2002 to 2010/2011, handguns have consistently been the most
common type of firearm used in crime.
Mr William Woolmore, a former member of the Firearms Appeals Tribunal
for the Victorian Justice Department, noted:
There has been a steady decline in gun related deaths in
Australia since 1980 and, as expected, the rate of decline increased marginally
following the new gun laws introduced in 1996 but this was due solely to a
reduction in gun suicides. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the
rate of gun murders in the few years after 1996 was actually higher than the
equivalent period before 1996. While gun violence has been steadily declining
there has been a substantial growth in total violence, with knife murders
exceeding gun murders by up to 4 to 1 in some years (The latest AIC figure
given in 2013 was 47 knife and 24 gun; worth comparing with 27 children
murdered by one or both of their parents).
Dr John Lott noted:
Prior to 1996, there was already a clear downward in firearm
homicides, and this pattern continued after the buyback. It is hence difficult
to link the decline to the buyback.
Again, as with suicides, both non-firearm and firearm
homicides fell by similar amounts. In fact, the trend in non-firearms homicides
shows a much larger decline between the pre- and post-buyback periods. This
suggests that crime has been falling for other reasons.
Note that the change in homicides doesn't follow the change
in gun ownership – there is no increase in homicides as gun ownership gradually
Illicit firearms in Australia: quantity and source
This chapter considers the illicit firearms market in Australia, its
composition and the relative contribution from different methods of diverting
firearms into the illicit market.
What are illicit firearms?
The illicit firearms market in Australia comprises grey market and black
market firearms. The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) explained:
The licit market comprises all firearms that are subject to
registration and held by a person with the approved authority to do so. The
grey market consists of all long-arms that were not registered, or surrendered
as required during the gun buybacks, following the National Firearms Agreement
(1996). Grey market firearms are not owned, used or conveyed for criminal purposes
but may end up in the illicit market. Illicit market firearms are those which
were illegally imported into or illegally manufactured in Australia, diverted
from the licit market or moved from the grey market.
This definition of illicit firearms is well accepted. The use of the
term 'grey market', however, caused debate amongst submitters to the inquiry.
While agreeing that the grey market did not include handguns, the
Australian Crime Commission (ACC) disagreed with the explanation provided by
the AIC and argued that grey market firearms formed part of the illicit market
without needing to be diverted for an illicit purpose:
There appears to be some inconsistency in evidence that has
been presented to the committee, particularly in relation to the definition of
the grey market and methods of diversion. The illicit firearm market is
primarily made up of firearms that have been diverted from licit markets
through various means. The grey market is comprised only of long-arm firearms
which should have been either registered or surrendered in firearm buybacks
following the 1996 National Firearms Agreement but were not. Handguns are not
included in the grey market as they required registration prior to the 1996
agreement. The black market includes all firearms, both long-arms and handguns,
illicitly obtained by individuals and criminal entities. While the use of these
terms and related definitions may be debated, both the grey and black market
are part of the illicit firearm market. The ACC's ongoing firearm trace
activities, which we would like to elaborate on further in camera, continue to
indicate that the majority of illicit firearms are derived from Australia's
grey market. Theft, failure to reconcile the interstate movement of firearms,
and importation of undeclared firearms and firearm parts are all key components
of the illicit market.
Detective Chief Superintendent Finch of the New South Wales Police Force
stated that the terminology was misleading:
[It] is a term that gives people comfort, and it should not.
It is a benign term. People who possess firearms—and they may be firearms that
were not handed back under the 1996 provisions—may well be committing criminal
offences and, in fact, serious criminal offences. I think the term 'grey market'
gives people comfort that it is not such a bad thing. The problem with that is
that when firearms are stolen from those people it may not ever be reported.
That is a problem in itself. [Grey market] is a term that was perhaps coined by
the [Australian Crime Commission]. I understand the reason for it, but I do not
agree with its use. I obviously understand the difference between that and the
black market, but it is something I think we should be constantly vigilant
about. We remind people strongly that it is an offence—and a serious criminal
offence, at that—to have possession of firearms that are unregistered and so
Size of the illicit firearms market
The evidence provided to this inquiry indicated that it is exceedingly
difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain the number of firearms that comprise
the grey and illicit markets. In its Firearm trafficking and serious and
organised crime gangs report, the AIC stated that 'it is not possible...to
estimate the size of either the grey or illicit market'.
The ACC, as part of its 2012 National Illicit Firearm Assessment,
has provided one estimate:
Whilst the exact size of the illicit firearm market is
unknown, our 2012 assessment conservatively estimated the market contained
around 260,000 firearms comprised of more than 250,000 long-arms and around
This estimate included both grey and black market firearms and was
derived from 'analysis of importation numbers, seizures, firearms data from
industry, in particular, and historical legislation and other relevant data'.
While the actual data used to determine these figures was classified, the ACC
stated that the next national assessment, to be finalised in 2015, will 'be
accompanied with appropriate unclassified and publicly available materials'.
In preparing the 2012 National Illicit Firearm Assessment, the
ACC 'identified significant national issues relating to the quality and
accuracy of data'.
This was a view shared by other witnesses,
who argued that data provided by the states and territories to the ACC
contained inconsistencies and that the ACC's role was limited to analysing the
data provided as opposed to collecting its own.
Another estimate of the size of the grey market was provided by the
Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, which in evidence endorsed its
1997/1998 estimate that the number of firearms not registered or surrendered
may be as high as 6 million.
Given the overall lack of data and basis for calculation provided by any
witness, there is no reason to believe its estimate is any less reliable than
that of the ACC, highlighting the fact that the Greens are grasping at straws.
Methods of diversion
There are three ways in which firearms enter the illicit market: they
are diverted from the licit market or moved from the grey market, for example
by theft, or they are illegally imported into or illegally manufactured in
The extent to which theft and illegal importation contribute to the pool
of illicit firearms in Australia proved to be one of the most contentious
points of this inquiry, with witnesses divided over whether the main source was
one of theft from licensed individuals and firearms dealers or porous borders.
Theft of firearms
Various representatives of the firearms industry argued that, based on statistics
provided by government agencies and state and territory police, the overall
number of firearms stolen was quite small.
The Sporting Shooters' Association of Australia submitted that 'stolen
firearms are not the main source of supply for the illegal gun trade' and
argued that data on firearms thefts was unreliable:
In South Australia, for example, the figure submitted for
legal handguns was inversed, leading the AIC to believe that there were 41,300
instead of 14,300 owned handguns in that jurisdiction. Western Australia at one
stage provided no information on firearms or firearms theft, while Victoria
inadvertently recorded firearm parts as actual stolen firearms. Even the AIC's
senior research analyst, Dr Samantha Bricknell, has stated that the number of
illegal firearms in the community is impossible to estimate. As we have said in
our written submission, the origin of illegal handguns, according to the AIC,
has an 'unknown' rate of 70 per cent. Handguns in particular are the least
likely to be stolen or ever used in a subsequent crime. In the state of
Victoria, only six handguns were stolen last year. Illegal long-arm ownership
is more likely to have come from the grey market, where rifles and shotguns are
Shooting Australia acknowledged that sporting shooters 'are very
conscious of the fact that our sporting equipment is a firearm and therefore
something that we need to keep secure as far as any theft is concerned'.
Victoria Police noted that while the number of stolen firearms in
Victoria had decreased from 800 in the 2011–12 period to 500 in the last
period, they nonetheless opined that 'the more weapons that are available to
the wrong hands from the grey market or the black market the more the potential
for them to facilitate crimes and/or injure or kill people'.
Geographic patterns of firearm
In addition to discussing the location (for example, private residence
or licensed dealer) from which firearms are stolen, a number of state police
discussed geographic patterns of firearm theft.
For example, Victoria Police informed the committee it had recently seen
an increase in firearm thefts in rural areas:
There had been a significant increase in the burglaries of
registered firearms owners' homes or farms in the western district of Victoria
over the preceding 12 months. There has been concerted operations conducted in
relation to trying to find the perpetrators of those offences. There was a
significant spike across remote-rural locations of the thefts of those firearms
which corresponded with an escalation in firearm-related violence in our
north-west metro region. Victoria is divided into four policing
regions—north-west, east, western and southern metro. There was found to be
quite a big spike in firearm-related violence which corresponded with the
thefts and burglaries on those premises, of which some of those firearms were
used in north-west metro area.
NSW Police suggested that firearm thefts in rural areas could be
attributed to a number of factors including attitudes toward firearms, storage
and geographic isolation:
In some areas of Australia, of course, the attitude to gun
ownership and security of guns is different from the attitude of people in
metropolitan Sydney, for example. I understand, having lived and worked in
rural areas in New South Wales, the reasons for that. That does not mean,
however, that the storage requirements should be any less in those areas
because, at times, you will see hobby farmers who have safe storage areas in
sheds away from the main dwelling. They may not be resident on the premises for
weeks or months, and they will then return and find that their firearms have
been stolen. We would receive a report, but it might be weeks or months later.
That is a problem. The location of the safe storage area away from main
dwelling houses is a problem. Often they are in storage sheds stored with angle
grinders and other implements that can open the storage areas. We see that
Illegal importation of firearms
The other source of illicit firearms in Australia is illegal
importation. Like theft, the committee heard contested evidence about the
extent to which illegal importation contributes to the illicit firearms market
The Firearm Safety and Training Council argued that illegal importation
of firearms into Australia was a more significant source of illicit firearms
...on the established data that has been presented, there are
very few firearms that have been stolen and subsequently used in illegal acts
or established as coming from a pathway from a registered firearm owner,
through theft, into a recorded crime. We then had to rely on press reports,
including on such things as the post office in Sydney that was being used for
illegal importation of firearms—from Germany, as I recall. They were, in fact,
semiautomatic handguns. We are also aware of the fact that there have been
press reports of particular organisations—and I am not singling out particular
bureaucracies here—including Customs officers who have been involved in, and I
believe charged with, illegal importation on occasion.
The NSW Police Force noted that the 'the illegal importation of
firearms, especially modern handguns and assault rifles, is a key driver of gun
crime in NSW'.
Detective Chief Superintendent Finch, Director of the Organised
Crime Directorate informed the committee that there has been a 'big influx in
illegal importation in NSW', though it is impossible to quantify:
To steal someone else's words, we do not know what we do not
know. The reality is that there are obviously guns being illegally imported
regularly. We detect some. There has been a slight change in the way
importations are reported. Prior to last year, the Australian Customs and
Border Protection Service and the New South Wales Police had primacy in terms
of the legal importations. Last year, a unilateral decision was taken that the
AFP would take control of investigations of illegal imports. That is in line
with their charter and their primacy in relation to narcotics. We work very
closely with the Australian Federal Police.
In particular, NSW Police referred to the use of
"shot-gunning", where firearms are broken into parts and brought into
the country illegally by post:
In the case of firearms, to some extent they do it because they
are able to break the firearm down, and if certain parcels are X-rayed it might
not show up. If, for example, there is a barrel from a semiautomatic, it might
show up as a metal tube, but that does not make it readily identifiable as a
firearm part if it has been misdescribed. So they are broken up, and sent—en
masse, at times—and then reassembled...They only have to be successful with one
importation, obviously, to make a significant profit.
NSW Police gave an example, citing its recent operation Strike Force
Maxworthy, which resulted in the detection of 12 Glock pistols that had been
sent in pieces to Australia via international mail.
The NSW Police Force gave further evidence to the committee about the impact
the internet has had in facilitating the illegal importation of firearms, with
some overseas retailers even advertising that they can assist in overcoming
customs regulations (although not always with the intention to break the law).
It was NSW Police's view that this practice will continue to pose a
threat. A lack of detection cannot be linked to the number of firearms that are
...because of the volume of air freight and parcel post they
may not be detected. Modern firearms are very easily disassembled. There is a
large amount of material other than metal in them. So at times they can be
misdescribed, as was the case in Strike Force Maxworthy, and they may never be
X-rayed. Certainly I think illegal importation is an area that needs to be
looked at closely. To the credit of the Australian Customs and Border
Protection Service, they have markedly increased their response. The firearm
squad have an analyst from Customs embedded with them. They work very closely
with Customs and the AFP, for that matter.
Victoria Police also raised the issue of illegal importation, noting
that internet facilitated firearm trafficking is an emerging trend.
In explaining its impact to the committee, Detective Superintendent De Santo
commented that it has opened the door to individuals who previously would not
have had the connections or resources to import firearms:
Currently they are imported into Australia via online and
through parcel post. I am talking about the one-off purchasers or two-off
purchasers, possibly in the dark net side of the internet. They are imported
into Australia and may be able to bypass screening, or may not be detected in
screening, and then they go out to the recipients who have ordered them online.
He noted that 'there is a whole varying element of individuals out there
who try to buy certain things', as opposed to just being limited to serious and
organised crime groups.
Victoria Police also discussed the traditional method used by organised
crime groups of shipping large numbers of illegal imports on the assumption
that not all containers would be x-rayed by Customs and the need for better
resourcing and intelligence.
In particular, Detective Superintendent De Santo discussed the emergence of
firearms manufactured to avoid metal detectors:
They are probably not as sophisticated as what you may see
depicted in some of the movies, but they are relatively well manufactured, not
manufactured in backyards. Those are the next ones I am going to go to, where
we have also seized firearms. Again, they are single shot, within the confines
of a mobile phone or within the confines of a belt buckle, a fashion accessory
worn around the waist. Insofar as avoiding detection, the components are
sometimes not picked up on X-ray, and the parts are disassembled for easy
transportation. It would be quite easy within some of our airlines. Components
can be separated, placed in cargo hold luggage and go through a lesser degree
of screening than hand luggage. That is the way they are transported across
border lines, other than being concealed in cars or about the person.
The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) assured the
committee it was not complacent on the issue of illegal importation of illicit
We are conscious of evidence previously given and the report
by the Australian Crime Commission with respect to the view that the vast
majority of firearms in the Australian illicit market are diverted from the
domestic licit market...However, we are conscious within Australian Customs and Border
Protection that we are vulnerable to illicit importations of firearms,
particularly in relation to whole firearms and firearms parts, and that that
risk has the potential to increase as criminal entities seek weapons. But we are
very vigilant to that issue.
The ACBPS also confirmed that it is impossible to quantify the number of
firearms that enter the country undetected. Instead, this information is
derived from the organisation's detection data as well as intelligence
We are talking about an illicit market. So in relation to how
many times it happens, the answer is: we do not know what we do not know.
However, we do have a tracing mechanism now through the Australian Crime
Commission and if guns were being imported into the illicit market using
criminality and seized, we would be aware of those and be able to do that work
in relation to a post-detection analysis. Operation Maxworthy relates to that
particular seizure. Even with the work that we do with New South Wales we are
making seizures at the border, so we are not complacent about it, but what we
have not got is examples where those sorts of large importations are occurring.
We do a lot of work with international partners. We do a lot of work with the
firearms manufacturers. I think if those were happening on a regular basis,
they would be a lot more visible in the environment, and we do not have an
intelligence picture to suggest that that is the case.
With regards to intelligence, Mrs Karen Harfield, National Director of
Intelligence, explained that detecting firearms was about understanding the
various risk factors, which include factors such as high-risk destination or
departure countries or type of items.
She also discussed situations where the ACBPS has worked with overseas partners
in sharing intelligence, which helps in targeting onshore arrivals:
In the channels, say, for passengers—and we do have finds on
passengers—with air cargo and sea cargo we are supplied with information that
gives us an opportunity to do analytical work while that individual or that
cargo is in transit. That leads us to targeting in a particular way. Then, once
onshore, we have got those detection capabilities such as the X-ray machines.
We have chemical detection capabilities and, obviously, the people part of that
is a really important aspect—in particular, in international mail because we do
not have electronic data prior to mail arriving. Those are the types of work
that we do. We clearly have an ability where partners might have intelligence
through a number of their sources that would impact on what we might do and how
we might intervene at the border. We are also able to provide intelligence
offshore so, where we can impact offshore and reduce and mitigate risk, we will
do so. For example, if we are looking at a particular network of criminality,
we might provide information offshore so that actual importation never departs.
The committee heard that during 2013-14, the ACBPS detected 1737
firearms and firearm parts (49 handguns, 21 rifles, 10 shotguns, 525 parts and
accessories and 1132 magazines).
The ACPBS also noted that serious criminal penalties exist with respect to
illegal importation, with a penalty on conviction up to $425 000 or 10 years
imprisonment, or both.
The ACBPS discussed the practicalities of conducting screening at its
international mail gateways:
It is a factory environment. There are massive volumes and a
continual requirement around the conveyor belt system that they have there. On
a practical day-to-day basis the intelligence piece provides support to the
managers and the staff around detection methodologies and the types of
concealments that we see on a regular basis. We have done training around
recognition of firearms parts and what anomalies might look like within some of
the detection technologies that we employ. We have a sort of layered approach
to the use of detector dogs in particular circumstances, depending on the types
of items we are looking at. There is that sort of broad level agreement on what
risk looks like and therefore on how we deploy people physically in the
environment. The main gateways are Sydney and Melbourne, and the predominant
number of staff and detections are there.
Site visit: National Detector Dog
In order to gain a better understanding of the role detector dogs play
in locating firearms, the committee undertook a site visit to the National
Detector Dog Program Facility located in Bulla, Victoria.
Originally focused on the detection of narcotics, the Detector Dog
Program was expanded in 2003 'to include firearms and component parts,
ammunition, explosives and chemical precursors'.
While visiting the facility, the committee observed dogs in the early stages of
training learning to search pallets of goods to detect explosives (Figures 2.1
and 2.2). Customs officers explained that these exercises are used to teach the
dogs the correct searching technique.
Figure 2.1: Customs' officer and
dog searching pallet for explosives as part of a training exercise
The committee also observed younger dogs honing their natural instincts
for searching through exercises conducted with their trainers:
Training is based on channelling each dog's inherent hunt and
play drive. Dogs are conditioned to detect specific target odours and are
rewarded by playing a vigorous game of tug-of-war with a rolled up towel.
Training is based on positive reinforcement and strives to produce a dog that
is self‑driven and able to make independent decisions.
Detector dog teams are trained to find goods hidden in luggage, parcels,
mail, cargo containers, vessels, vehicles, aircraft and on people:
Customs focuses on the training of various methodologies,
including multi‑purpose response dogs. These dogs are capable of
searching both people and cargo and can work in Customs search areas. A
multi-purpose response dog is trained to give a passive or "sit"
response to people carrying or concealing items or a pawing or scratching
response to cargo or areas where items might be hidden. This dual capability
allows Customs to more effectively deploy detector dogs.
In 2012-13, detector dogs 'contributed to the detection of 2272 illegal
imports and exports totaling 92.8kgs'.
Due to the difficulties finding dogs capable of completing the Program,
Customs developed its own breeding program in the early 1990s which has been
responsible for the birth of over 2500 Labrador Retrievers. The majority of
these dogs have gone on to work as detector dogs, though not all as Customs
Many other agencies also use dogs bred by Customs, including
the Australian Defence Force, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian
Quarantine and Inspection Service and State and Territory police. Customs-bred
dogs have been deployed in a variety of fields, including arson detection, food
detection and/or explosives and firearms detection.
The committee was interested to learn that dogs are trained to detect
narcotics, firearms, currency or explosives. In the past, dogs had been trained
to detect both firearms and explosives. However, a positive response from a dog
(see Figure 2.2) for a firearm results in a very different course of action (a
more thorough inspection of an article) to that taken for an explosive
(evacuating the area). For this reason, Customs no longer trains dogs to detect
both—dogs now specialise in one or the other.
Figure 2.2: Detector dog alerting
handler to the presence of explosives in the package as part of a training
The committee would like to thank the customs officers at the National
Detector Dog Program Facility for their time and the knowledge they imparted
and commends them on the important role they play in protecting the community.
Figure 2.3: Committee members with
Mr Glenn Scutts and Mr Smyl Fischer at the ACBPS Detector Dog Program facility
Manufacture of illicit firearms
With the exception of the potential for firearms to be manufactured
through the use of 3D printing technology (discussed in chapter 6), the
committee heard little evidence about the illegal manufacturing of firearms in
Australia and the extent to which this might contribute to the illicit firearms
Identifying the source of illicit
The main resource for identifying the source of illicit firearms in
Australia relied upon by submitters and witnesses appeared to be research
prepared by the AIC. The two main research projects undertaken by the AIC were
the National Firearms Monitoring Program (NFMP) and the National Firearm Theft
Monitoring Program (NFTMP). Both of these programs were established in response
to particular firearm issues and had funding for a set period of time.
Consequently, the majority of data focuses on the period from 2004-05 to
In 2012, the AIC also published a report into Firearm trafficking and
serious and organised crime gangs, which included analysis of data from the
National Firearm Trace Database (NFTD).
The NFTD is based on traces conducted by the ACC between 2002 and 2012:
On behalf of Australian law enforcement agencies, the ACC
conducts serial number tracing of both registered and unregistered firearms
through the Firearm Trace Program. It provides insights into the points of
diversion at which firearms enter the illicit market and the types of firearms
used and seized as well as highlighting the changes in the illicit firearms
market. Firearm trace data and sales information may also assist in the
identification and initiation of investigations.
The ACC provided the committee with detailed information on the various
processes involved in conducting a firearm trace, which include:
Confirming that the information supplied is sufficient for
Checking the firearm factory frame/receiver serial number against
the ACC Firearm Transaction Database (FTD), which currently stores some 1.5
million records of historical firearm transactions and the CrimTrac Agency
National Firearm Licencing & Registration System (NFLRS), which consists of
records submitted by states/territories. If no record of the firearm is
identified on the NFLRS then searches are made for the same make and model
firearms that have similar serial number structure – this provides an important
avenue for potential identification of these firearms; and
Contacting foreign law enforcement agencies where the firearm has
been manufactured overseas and cannot be identified as recorded either in the
FTD or NFLRS. In the case of US manufactured firearms the ACC can submit a
firearm trace request to the USA Department of Justice. The ACC signed a
memorandum of understanding with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives in 2007 for the sharing of firearm related information, which also
supports the United Nations Program of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons
for the tracing of illicit firearms.
The data obtained from the NFTD indicates the majority of illicit
firearms investigated were diverted from the grey market.
The ACC nonetheless noted that 'theft, failure to reconcile the interstate
movement of firearms, and the importation of undeclared firearms and firearm
parts are all key components of the illicit market' and that the means of
diversion varied depending on the type of firearm.
For investigated illicit long-arms (shotguns and rifles) the grey market
was the main source (92 per cent of restricted and 86 per cent of
with theft from licensed individuals and dealers the next most common source (4
per cent of restricted long-arms and 10 per cent of non-restricted long-arms).
The AIC noted that other methods of supply include illicit domestic
manufacture, false deactivation, failure to notify of interstate transfer and
illegal import, though these accounted for very few of the long-arms recorded
in the NFTD.
According to the AIC, the primary sources of illicit restricted handguns
are false deactivation (39 per cent) and theft or loss (31 per cent).
Non-restricted handguns are most commonly diverted to the illicit firearms by
theft or loss: 50 per cent of all non-restricted handguns are stolen from legal
The ACC cited historical deactivation and technical loopholes, theft from
licensed individuals and dealers, failure to reconcile the interstate movement
of a firearm and importation of undeclared firearms and firearm parts as the
main methods of diverting handguns into the illicit market.
The ACC gave further evidence that the theft of handguns was quite small and
that while it estimates there are 10,000 handguns on the illicit market 7500 of
these are deactivated firearms.
While the NFTMP demonstrated that the majority of firearms lost or
stolen constituted long-arms, with handguns only comprising 7 per cent of thefts
between 2005-06 to 2008-09,
data from the NFTD found that a significantly high proportion of handguns were
seized from serious and organised crime groups (SOCG).
According to the AIC, 40 per cent of firearms seized from SOCG were
rifles and 39 per cent were handguns.
The AIC remarked that 'SOCG and non-SOCG seizures contrasted in the prevalence
of handguns, with a significantly greater proportion of handguns found in
association with SOCG'.
The AIC's Firearm Theft in Australia reports were also cited
during the course of the inquiry, for example by the ACC. However, as
highlighted by the Firearm Safety and Training Council, this series of reports
is not currently produced by the AIC with the Firearm Theft in Australia
2008–09 report 'the last of a series of such reports funded by the
Australian Government under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002'.
The Firearm Safety and Training Council argued that unless funding is provided
to the AIC for the production of the Firearm Theft in Australia reports, this 'valuable
source of reliable information' will cease.
Other submitters to the inquiry were critical of data provided by the
AIC, particularly in regard to its findings regarding the sources of illicit
firearms. Some of this appears to arise from the complexity of the AIC's
datasets (both the NFTMP and the NFTD) and the definitions used for different
types of firearms. The AIC attempted to clarify:
Firstly, the grey market is only long-arms, so we cannot talk
about handguns in that respect. Definitely a lot of them would have been
imported legally into Australia before the firearm reforms and then entered the
grey market with reforms that came in either because the owner chose not to
register the firearm or because they were not aware of the reforms.
I think there is a sort of conflation between some of the
figures and a misunderstanding of how they work together. Again, based on the
firearm trace database, it indicated that the theft was an important conduit to
the illicit firearm market. That somewhat straddles the firearm theft
monitoring program data that we have which showed that handguns contributed
about seven per cent of all stolen firearms that were reported each year. I
would like to add that there has been a lot of focus on, 'It's only seven per
cent of firearms that are reported stolen are handguns.' It is proportionate
with the number of registered handguns in the country, as we have found with
rifles and shotguns as well. Just because we are finding that only a small
proportion of handguns are being reported stolen I do not think there is
necessarily a problem to show that it is an important conduit through to the
illicit market. I do not think those figures are necessarily at odds with each
In terms of the completeness of data, the AIC noted that there was 'a
high unknown response rate' (that is, untraceable firearms) with regards to the
NFTD, predominantly with regards to long-arms.
The ACC stated that there are a number of reasons for this 'which include
defaced serial numbers, the firearm having no record of being registered in
Australia or overseas, or the trace analysis not being finalised pending
further information from industry sources'.
Questions were also raised regarding the completeness of the NTMP
statistics, with some jurisdictions not providing data for certain years or
providing incomplete datasets. Yet, overall, the AIC seemed pleased by the
level of co-operation provided by the state and territory police forces:
We have received excellent data, particularly from a number
of jurisdictions. I would like to highlight Queensland in particular. Their
data is excellent and has always been excellent in terms of the firearm theft
monitoring program. It is very thorough. I must say the database that was
developed for this monitoring program is extremely thorough. The data, for the
most part, that we collected over that period of time has been complete and has
allowed the analysis that we have done. But, as said, the majority of reported
incidents that are included in the monitoring program are from private owners.
Dealer stock, I think, represented less than 10 per cent. Then we have had the
occasional theft from security organisations, and I think one or two from
police. But for the most part it is from private owners.
The AIC also confirmed that the study was based around reported firearm
theft and therefore owners of unregistered or illegal firearms, or those who
had failed to comply with the relevant storage requirements, were less likely
to have reported their firearm stolen.
Need for more comprehensive data
A number of organisations called for stronger reporting requirements and
more reliable data. For example, the Honourable Mr David Hawker shared his
views regarding the dangers of inaccurate data:
One of the problems that you have, and will always have, with
anything illegal is that your data is never going to be complete—in fact, it is
going to be very incomplete—which means that it is wide open to interpretation
and possibly exaggeration by vested interests. That in itself is something that
has to be elicited through all the discussions. In the meantime, the bodies
that could do more and have done more in the past, like the Institute of
Criminology, have probably been discouraged from doing some of the work that
they used to do.
The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) spoke about the importance to
registered firearm owners of being able to protect their firearms from the
criminal element and the need for more qualitative data:
I think one of the things that this inquiry really needs to
get to is the data that is out there and available. There are statistics on
guns, illegal gun use and gun theft, but there is not much qualitative data
[about] what actually happens—how a gun actually falls into the wrong hands.
Particularly when you are talking about regional areas and the farming
community, if there is a concern around the current laws not already having
their required effect because, for example, there is some issue with the use of
gun safes or whatnot, that is something I think needs to be given some
attention. There are good laws are in place but, if gun thefts are happening...we
need to understand why and how.
Mr Howard Brown, from the Victims of Crime Assistance League, stated
that more data was certainly required to determine how firearms enter the
...there has clearly been a great deal of discussion about the
number of weapons that have been stolen from premises and used in the
commission of crimes. There is such paucity of detail on that. According to the
New South Wales Police submission, four per cent of handguns that were stolen
were used in the commission of crimes. Is there a problem there or not?
Clearly, four per cent is actually quite a small figure. If you go to the
Victorian police, they have their own way of gathering data, so we do not know
if we have a problem with the security of weapons or a problem elsewhere. Look
at the last 2½ years in Sydney specifically. We have, unfortunately, become the
drive-by capital of the world. We have had an enormous number of drive-bys and
yet we know through the Integrated Ballistics Investigation System that the New
South Wales Police use that a number of those weapons have been used on
multiple occasions by different perpetrators, so you cannot say that that was
caused by incorrect storage. But we still have the problem, and the person who
has their house shot up does not really care whether the gun was stolen or
brought into the country illegally. We need to determine what the cause of the
problem is, because you cannot fix it unless you know what the problem is.
Development of 3D manufactured firearms
One of the most fascinating aspects of this inquiry was the issue of 3D
In particular, this inquiry was concerned with the development of 3D
While chapter 4 discussed the current situation with regard to the
regulation of firearm parts and accessories more generally, this chapter will
look at whether the current state and territory laws sufficiently cover 3D
manufactured firearms and firearm parts.
What is 3D manufacturing?
In order to understand the impact that 3D manufacturing will have on
society, it is important to first understand the concept. The World
Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has provided a good explanation:
3-D printing, alias additive manufacturing (AM) or direct
digital manufacturing (DDM), makes it possible to create an object by creating
a digital file and printing it at home or sending it to one of a growing number
of online 3-D print services. In the 3-D printing process, this digital
blueprint, created using computer-aided design (CAD) software, is sliced into
2-dimensional representations which are fed through to a printer that starts
building up an object layer by layer from its base. Layers of material (in
liquid, powder or filament form) are deposited onto a 'build area' and fused
together. This additive process, which minimizes waste because it only uses the
amount of material required to make the component (and its support), is
distinct from traditional "subtractive" manufacturing processes where
materials are cut away to produce a desired form.
WIPO noted that there are a number of techniques used to print 3D
A number of 3-D printing techniques exist. The first
commercial 3-D print technology, stereolithography, was invented in 1984 by
Charles Hull. Several other techniques have emerged since, including fused
deposition modeling (FDM), selective laser sintering (SLS) and PolyJet Matrix.
Some of these techniques involve melting or softening layers of material,
others involve binding powdered materials and yet others involve jetting or
selectively-hardening liquid materials.
The process of 'growing' objects layer by layer also means
that, with 3-D printing, it is possible to create more intricate and complex
structures than can be done using traditional manufacturing techniques.
While the concept of 3D manufacturing was originally developed for rapid
prototyping purposes, developments which have improved its accuracy, speed and
quality have led to it being used for a wide range of purposes:
The technology is already widely used to make jewellery and
other bespoke fashion items, in dental laboratories to produce crowns, bridges
and implants, as well as in the production of hearing aids and prostheses,
offering patients a perfect fit. 3-D printing is particularly suited to low‑volume,
short production runs offering companies a more flexible, cost‑effective
and speedy alternative to traditional mass production methods.
Dr Angela Daly, from Swinburne University, spoke to the committee about
the beneficial aspects of 3D manufacturing in a number of areas including manufacturing,
industry, medicine and arts and design.
She noted that it is probably at the industrial level where societies like
Australia are benefiting the most from 3D printing.
Mr Michael de Souza, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian 3D Manufacturing
Association, spoke about some of the developments that have occurred,
particularly in biomedical fields:
At the ANFF in Wollongong, we are world leaders in what we
call additive manufacturing and additive research and development. The additives
are the 'inks', as they are referred to. You are talking about absolutely
anything that you can touch, see, breathe or feel. It is already at a molecular
level, because everything base carbon, and once you break it down to a
molecular level and begin to rebuild it, you can produce anything as an ink.
They have managed to print live human cells. Prior to that, you could print the
cell—a plant cell, animal cell or human cell—but the issue has been that the
printing process kills the cells. There is now a way, developed by Gordon
Wallace at Wollongong University, to actually protect that cell in a gel and,
as the cell or cells begin to reproduce and collectively join a matrix, that
gel dissolves and away you go. So you have human, animal, and plant tissue regenerating
itself, which is of course fantastic for organs, burn victims' skin and all
sorts of things like that.
As part of its inquiry, the committee had the opportunity to visit
Objective 3D, a commercial 3D manufacturing facility in Melbourne. While there,
the committee learnt about the important role 3D manufacturing is playing with
respect to Australia's broader manufacturing industry.
Examples were given of some of the many products which can now be
printed, including prosthetic limbs for amputees and anatomical models for use
by medical students. Anatomical models have also been used for pre-operative
planning, for example, in the case of conjoined Bangladeshi twins Krishna and
Trishna, a bespoke 3D printed model was used by doctors to plan surgery to
separate their fused brain and skull tissue.
The committee toured Objective 3D's facility and viewed a number of 3D
printers, including one in action (see Figures 6.1 and 6.2). Due to
technological advancements, 3D printers have both increased in their
sophistication as well as reduced in cost (some printers are now a third of the
cost of those a decade earlier). The committee was fascinated to observe the
processes used to manufacture 3D items and would like to thank Mr Matt Minnio
of Objective 3D for his time and expertise.
Figure 3.1: Committee members
inspect a 3D printer
Figure 3.2: Viewing a 3D printer in
The development of 3D printed firearms
The invention and expansion of 3D manufacturing means that the
production of firearms in this way is now a reality. The Australian 3D
Manufacturing Association noted that 'as 3D printers and manufacturing
processes have become increasingly available worldwide, so too have 3D printed
firearms components and accessories'.
It was suggested to the committee that 3D manufactured firearms
currently do not pose a particularly high risk to the community.
Mr Nicholas Jenzen-Jones, Director of Armament Research Services (ARES)
commented that 3D manufactured firearms had started to gain significant media
attention when Defense Distributed built its fully printable, single-shot
polymer "Liberator" handgun.
He emphasised that while the idea of being able to instantly print a firearm
sounded alarming, at this stage, a degree of expertise is still required:
I think it is really important for me to stress that the
state of technology, as it stands today, is not click, print and fire. You
cannot simply download a file, hit print on your printer and come out with a
functional firearm. There is a degree of hand-finishing, there is a level of
technical expertise, I understand, that is involved in producing the firearm in
the first place; and, of course, once it is complete, there is no guarantee
that it is going to function correctly unless it is correctly assembled and so
on. So, while it does perhaps remove from the watchful eye of law enforcement
some of these people and their ability to purchase or acquire firearms, it is
not distinctly different from people being able to go to the hardware store,
purchase components there and assemble them in their backyards.
He also advised the committee that manufacturing 3D firearms from metals
remained rare and was incredibly expensive:
There are functional handguns available commercially in very
small numbers in the United States that have been produced almost
overwhelmingly using the direct metal laser sintering process. It is not
economically viable. Those handguns sell for US$11,900 each, where a comparable
handgun, in terms of capability and design, can be purchased in the United
States for about US$300 or US$400. Clearly, there is a big gap there. The
biggest hurdle for a criminal organisation or a non-state armed group seeking
to produce metal 3D-printed firearms would be the cost of the printers
themselves. Currently they are not economically viable for the consumer grade.
ARES also discussed the possibility of whether criminals and armed
groups were already using 3D manufactured guns as part of their operations.
ARES found that such groups, including those operating in Australia, already 'routinely
produce a range of improvised firearms from various materials using traditional
or improvised manufacturing methods'.
ARES argued that these weapons have more advanced capabilities than 3D printed
firearms produced outside defence facilities, and that there is not yet a
demand for 3D printed firearms:
At this stage the only benefits that an economically viable
3D printed weapon may hold for an individual or a non-state group seeking
illicit weapons lie in their untraceable nature and the polymer construction
that prevents many common screening devices from detecting them—for example, in
order to smuggle a weapon inside a secured area. When the costs of purchasing
or producing 3D printed firearms are considered, together with their
operational limitations, traditional firearms purchased on the black market and
those produced by traditional manufacturing methods illegally are likely to
remain all the more appealing to individuals and non-state armed groups for the
foreseeable future. Barring significant technological advances, advanced 3D printed
metal firearms will remain beyond the reach of those seeking illicit weapons
for many years to come.
The Australian 3D Manufacturing Association agreed with this assessment:
I think the most important thing to note is that the media
has somewhat sensationalised the gun story. The important thing is the fact
that today, in the real world, with respect to the technology that is available
for producing a gun—I am talking about outside; let us discount people like the
US military and all these people we do not even know and will probably never
know for years are doing—you would need several million dollars, several very
clever designers, employees, engineers, scientists to be able to create a
genuine weapon that would be effective. The devices that can be created
today—you have seen this in the media and the police have tested these
products—are more likely to kill you than the person you are aiming the device
at. Can they be called a gun? You put a bullet in it so, if you want to call it
a gun, okay, but where that bullet is going to go is debatable. With today's
technology, could someone do it at home? No, not really. Would it be effective?
No. Would it be accurate? No. Would I fire it? Absolutely not. I would not be
anywhere near it. With today's technology, and keeping it in the topic of
discussion, our position is that with the equipment, the machinery, the
printers that are available today it is not reasonable to say that you could
produce a gun per se that could do that sort of damage.
The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) stated that it 'has not identified
or been informed of law enforcement discoveries of 3D fabricated firearms being
used or made by criminal entities in Australia'.
While the use of 3D manufactured firearms in criminal activities appears
at present to be negligible, some witnesses identified possible challenges for
law enforcement with regards to firearms produced in this way.
The Victims of Crimes Assistance League argued that criminal groups are
already exploring the uses of 3D manufacturing technology and this is of
My concern with 3-D printing is not with responsible
manufacturers at all. My concern goes to people such as outlaw motorcycle
gangs. I am not sure whether the committee is aware, but as recently as last
week police arrested three people in the outer western Sydney region who were
involved in the manufacturing of illicit firearms, and they were using small
die-cast equipment and foundries to manufacture illegal firearms. That is my
concern with the 3-D printing. We have looked at the examples cited by Andrew
Scipione, for example, with one of the handguns where after the second shot the
weapon tended to explode in your hand, which I would have thought would have
been somewhat of a disincentive. However, as I said, criminals are not
particularly bright, so it may be they do not understand that.
This was a view shared by Victoria Police, which stated 'we have varying
organised crime groups—Middle Eastern organised crime, outlaw motorcycle
gangs—that are quite innovative and adaptive in their approaches to their
organised crime activities'
As technology is refined, and with 3D printers and other
machines like a computer numerical control (CNC) machine becoming more readily
available and affordable, it is likely that 3D printing of firearms will
increase, posing a significant risk to community safety and law enforcement
The United Nations Secretary-General has also acknowledged in a recent
report that while 'weapons theft or purchase on the illicit market may require
less effort than printing an effective, reliable weapon', this may change once
production costs decrease and the quality of 3D printed firearms improves.
The ACC predicted that advances in technology could lead to 3D
manufactured firearms posing more of a threat:
The ACC has assessed that 3D fabricated firearms will
probably pose a low threat for at least the next two years. This is because of
the current limitations of technology result in a low quality product, firing
capability is unreliable, and development is complex and costly. However,
decreased costs and advances in technology associated with machinery and
manufacturing programs sourced from the internet will likely increase the
quality of illicitly manufactured firearms and components within Australia in
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) also noted that the technology was
advancing quite quickly and at some point would 'allow the production of metal
objects similar to the way that plastic ones are currently produced'.
Queensland Police confirmed that these concerns are a reality and
described a recent property search that led to the discovery of 3D printed
The search resulted in investigators recovering a loaded sawn
off .22 calibre rifle. The firearm, previously a long arm (rifle), had been
modified to enable it to be concealed on a person. The search also resulted in
officers locating four plastic bags containing major component parts for
firearms. The component parts included the receiver, trigger assembly and
cylinder/barrel. Officers identified there were sufficient parts to construct
four concealable weapons, each constructed to hold and discharge up to six .22
calibre projectiles. The weapons parts had been manufactured through the
utilisation of a 3D printer, where the devi[c]e would 'print' the component
parts for assembly by the user. Officers also located a set of knuckle dusters
which had also been 'printed' by the device.
The 3D printed firearms parts located by Queensland Police were able to
The defendant admitted he had constructed and test fired one
of the weapons, indicating it had worked and discharged a .22 calibre round. The
defendant had however strength issue in the 'printed' model and had set about
rectifying the problem by re-enforcing the cylinder with metal tubing. The
inclusion of this metal tubing would mean the weapon could have been reloaded
and repeatedly used.
Significant concerns associated with 3D manufactured firearms and firearm
parts produced from polymer resin are their disposable nature and the
difficulty of detecting them with traditional methods. ARES spoke about these
informing the committee that not only are 3D manufactured firearms easy to
replace, they are 'comparatively easy to incinerate'.
ARES also discussed whether 3D manufactured firearms are able to be
detected using traditional means such as metal scanners, body scanners and
The polymer 3D printed firearms in particular such as the
Defence Distributed Liberator have already been successfully smuggled into a
few secure locations—primarily by journalists seeking to test the security
mechanisms. There are some technologies for which the polymer nature of the
handgun will allow the weapon to be brought into secure areas. These are
primarily metal detectors. Whilst these polymer frame handguns cannot be
detected by metal detectors, they can still be detected by X-ray machines and backscatter
X-ray body scanners.
Dr Daly commented that technological advances have allowed anyone who
has access to a 3D printer, raw material and the relevant design files to make
an undesirable object:
The problem for regulation and enforcement of the law with
regard to these objects, whether we are talking about laws relating to control
of weapons, health and safety laws or even intellectual property laws, is the
decentralised nature of 3-D printing. The whole 3-D printing process can
essentially take place in the privacy of individuals' homes. One way of regulating
the 3-D printing process might be to target entities such as the printer
manufacturers; the design repositories, which tend to be websites where people
upload 3-D printing designs and others can download them; and internet service
providers, given that a lot of this process happens online. One way of
regulating might be to ensure that they must only handle certain kinds of
Dr Goldsworthy acknowledged that 3D manufacturing highlights a number of
issues for law enforcement authorities and, given the availability of the
technology and the motivation for criminals to manufacture 3D printed firearms,
the government should be on the front foot.
The regulation of 3D printed firearms is discussed in the next section.
Regulation of 3D firearms
As with the majority of technological developments, 3D manufacturing
offers not only exciting and hugely beneficial possibilities for the community,
it also poses challenges for governments and law enforcement authorities.
Before additional measures and controls are imposed, it is important to examine
the state of the existing legislation.
Current legislative framework
There is currently no Australian legislation that goes specifically to
regulating 3D printers and associated materials. As the ACC stated:
3D printers and materials are not subject to federal
regulations as they have widespread legitimate applications. There is no
offence in possessing or using a 3D printer. The ACC notes that firearms
produced using new technologies are still subject to the licensing and
registration requirements with any other firearm.
Internationally a number of instruments apply, as ARES explained:
Rapid advances in 3D printing technology and their increased
application in the manufacture of firearms and firearms components raises a
number of legal, normative and law enforcement questions. In general, national,
regional and international controls apply to 3D printed firearms in the same
way they apply to traditionally manufactured firearms. New technology will pose
new challenges for law enforcement, however.
It is important to note that 3D manufacturing will not render
current international and national controls on firearms obsolete. It may,
however, make applying these norms more challenging. As additive manufacturing
technologies continue to improve and become more readily available to private
individuals, the enforcement of firearm manufacturing regulations will become
increasingly difficult. Additive manufacturing techniques could be used to
produce controlled accessories or components.
Some witnesses suggested that Australia's existing firearms laws would
apply equally to 3D printed firearms. The Attorney-General's Department (AGD)
...our understanding of this area of 3D printing or creating of
firearms is that it would be treated no differently to traditionally
manufactured firearms, and that importation, manufacture or possession of a 3D
printed firearm, without a licence, would be illegal in Australia.
The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) considered this issue carefully and
found that the manufacture of firearms by way of 3D manufacturing was likely to
be considered an offence in all Australian jurisdictions:
It appears that the current firearms statutes (and, where
relevant, weapons statutes) in combination with the Customs Act 1901 and import
regulations sufficiently covers the possession and manufacture of all firearms,
including those made with the use of 3D printers or from separately imported
However, the LIV also noted that due to each state and territory having
its own laws with regards to the registration of firearm parts and the
manufacture of firearm parts, it is impossible to be certain without judicial
consideration whether the legislation in all Australian jurisdictions will
sufficiently cover 3D manufacturing of firearms.
Given these jurisdictional inconsistencies and the rapid changes in 3D
manufacturing, the LIV recommended 'that it would be desirable to introduce and
implement a uniform set of regulations in all Australian jurisdictions'.
Suggestions for further regulation
It was the view of some submitters that the law needs to keep pace with
technological advances. For example, the Australian 3D Manufacturing
I think the fact that we have seen over the past 20-odd years
the problems that have occurred with trying to regulate the internet and put
laws in place. I think part of that was because we started way too late. If we
can work collaboratively today and develop standards from the get-go, then we
are going to be in a much better position to be able to look at those things as
the years go by.
As noted in paragraph 6.32, a number of international instruments apply
to 3D printed firearms in the same way they do to traditionally manufactured
firearms, but the development of 3D manufacturing technology will pose new challenges
for law enforcement.
The Victims of Crimes Assistance League shared a similar view:
Until we can keep pace with that, we are going to have a
situation where someone is going to be shot and injured with the use of a 3-D
device, and we are going to have all sorts of problems getting that matter
through the courts because of the failure of the courts to keep pace with that
technology. We need to address it, and we need to address it before it becomes
a problem, not after it becomes a problem, which is traditionally what the law
Submitters were generally opposed to either banning, or introducing a
character test, for the ownership of 3D printers. The LIV noted that this was a
'drastic option' and that it 'would caution against introducing new legislation
that is so broad and encompassing that it addresses every possible scenario in
Dr Goldsworthy noted that by preventing people from engaging in illegal
activity, you would also prevent beneficial discoveries for society:
...3-D printers are multipurpose and most of them are quite
legitimate and not illicit. So therein lies the problem of how you regulate
something that is going to be used quite legitimately in most of the opportunities
versus the small amount of times it may be used inappropriately. I think that
is the real challenge we are facing here.
Dr Daly similarly cautioned against over–regulation:
...any attempt to regulate 3-D printing: that it would be
largely ineffective and disproportionate to the potential harm of dangerous
objects, such as guns. I propose that, due to some concern about guns, we
should not allow a moral panic to stifle the large benefits from 3-D printing
for society at large. There should be some hard evidence regarding the
prevalence of 3-D printed weapons and the threat of these weapons to Australia
before any new legislation is considered. There would also need to be
consideration given to whether any such regulation would be effective in practice.
However, in her submission, Dr Daly suggested three possible ways in
which 3D printing could be more moderately regulated:
use of 'gatekeepers': place obligations on 3D printer
manufacturers and online design repositories to only allow for approved files
to be used on their machines or present in their folders through technical
private regulation: examples include Danish 3D printing firm
Create It REAL which recently announced it had developed a firearms component
detection algorithm which can give 3D printers the option to block gun parts,
and the decision of Mega to take down the Liberator gun blueprint; and
role of internet service providers: require companies to report
when users download 3D printing design files that relate to firearms.
The LIV was supportive of similar approaches,
while Dr Goldsworthy noted that recent proposed changes to Australia's
telecommunications regime could be used to regulate 3D printing.
Copyright and intellectual property
The rapid development of 3D manufacturing technology offers huge
benefits to the community in terms of industry, medicine, creativity and many
other areas of human endeavour. It is also clear that it poses challenges for
law makers and law enforcement authorities when it comes to the manufacture of
potentially dangerous items such as firearms, as has been discussed elsewhere
in this chapter. During the course of the inquiry, it also became apparent that
3D manufacturing technology will pose challenges with respect to copyright and
other intellectual property issues.
The Australian 3D Manufacturing Association explained:
Although 3D manufacturing has been around for many, many
years, it is only due to the lapse of patents and copyrights recently that has
brought the technology into the fore...It is such complex technology. As I
alluded to before, it has come to the fore because of the lapse of copyright,
patents and all of these things that were not previously in the public domain.
You would have had to pay millions, tens of millions of dollars to get hold of
the technology. All of that technology is now coming out into the public domain.
The committee considers these issues are beyond the terms of reference
for this inquiry. On that basis, the committee believes that there is scope for
a further and more extensive inquiry into 3D manufacturing technology and the
opportunities and challenges it offers.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry welcome the Chair's
comments that it was not the intention of the inquiry to target law-abiding
firearms owners through this inquiry. The Committee heard evidence that lawful
use of firearms has a wide range of economic, social and environmental benefits
to the Australian community which deserve to be promoted to counteract the
myths about them which are perpetuated by some in the community.
One of the difficulties encountered by this inquiry has been the
inability of the Committee to ascertain, with any degree of certainty, where
the majority of the illicit guns originate and the size of the illegal gun
Notwithstanding that difficulty, the evidence provided by witnesses
including law enforcement agencies, confirmed that most guns used in the
commission of crime do not originate from licensed firearm owners.
No case was made to the committee for any increased regulation around
gun ownership laws. In particular there was no evidence to show that:
banning semi-automatic handguns would have any material effect on
the number of illegally held firearms in Australia;
stricter storage requirements and the use of electronic alarm
systems for guns stored in homes would have any impact on gun-related violence;
anomalies in federal, state and territory laws regarding the
ownership, sale, storage and transit across state boundaries of legal firearms
has any material impact on gun-related violence in the community.
It is also unfortunate that the joint report of the Department of Prime
Minister and Cabinet and NSW Premier and Cabinet on the Martin Place siege was
referenced in the Chair's report, since it was not mentioned by any witness or
considered by the committee as part of this inquiry.
Misinformation not helpful
Despite the acknowledged deficiencies in the data available, the Chair
of the inquiry has unfortunately made comments in the media about the size of
the illegal gun market and its impact on crime in the community. Many of the
claims made were not substantiated by the evidence to the inquiry, particularly
regarding the source of illegal guns and legal gun owners in Australia.
Claims made in the media by the Chair, which The majority of Senators
attending the inquiry believe are not substantiated by the evidence, include:
most illegal guns are not trafficked into Australia, but stolen
from registered owners;
many illicit firearms are actually stolen from legitimate sources
or taken from the grey market, including the gun used in the Sydney siege.
The hypothesis that illegal guns are mainly stolen from registered gun
owners was not supported by the evidence presented to the Committee.
Data Deficiencies - The size and operation of the illicit firearms trade
The Committee heard evidence from a number of organisations in
Australian jurisdictions about the size and distribution of the illegal
firearms market within Australia. The lack of reliable data on the size of the
illicit (or black) and grey market means that currently it is impossible to
accurately assess the extent of the problem.
The Sporting Shooter's Association of Australia asserted that the data
presented by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) and Australian Crime
Commission (ACC) are unreliable because they:
...have been supplied, unintentionally, with data, contaminated
at best, and rubbish at worst, from South Australia, Western Australia and
Victoria...skewing results and leading to a misunderstanding of the legal and
illegal firearms landscape.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry do not accept evidence
provided by the ACC which estimated the number of illegal firearms in the
community at 260 000, including 250 000 long‑arms and 10 000 handguns.
This figure is taken from the Final Report of the National Investigation
into the Illegal Firearms Market. These estimated 260 000 illicit firearms were
supposedly based on a tracing analysis of 3186 weapons seized by law
There are issues with this data that bring its reliability and validity
into serious question. Firstly, this sample size was revealed to be much
smaller than the ACC report first indicated based on 2119 firearms not 3186.
In addition, it is unclear whether a third of these firearms can be classed as
illicit considering 33.5 per cent of the traces had an unknown method of
diversion due to insufficient information.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry agree with Mr Rossi,
President of the National Firearms Dealers Association:
Policy and research ought to be underpinned by comprehensive,
accurate, verifiable and transparent data. We believe that any policy based
inquiry must be built on these foundations. In the case of firearm and shooter
issues, this is not the case. That includes the issues that are the subject of
Accordingly it is not advisable for the Committee to make any
recommendations based on flawed evidence. Further developments in policy should
be focussed on further research in this area.
Data Deficiencies - Theft of firearms
The data on the number of stolen firearms provided by the AIC is
dependent on the reliability of data provided to it by the state authorities,
which cannot be relied upon for the following reasons:
Some jurisdictions did not provide data for all collection years
or did not provide the full complement of data requested for individual years.
For example, the data for stolen firearms excludes Western Australia for 2007‑08;
Victoria inadvertently recorded firearm parts as actual stolen
The numbers were inverted by accident to read 41 300 handguns
rather than 14 300 being licensed in South Australia.
There was no evidence presented to the Committee which demonstrated a
significant problem with stolen firearms being used for criminal activity:
Data provided by state and territory police indicated that
firearms from a very small percentage of theft incidents (less than 5 per cent)
reported in the four year period 2005-06 to 2008-09 were subsequently used to
commit a criminal offence or found in the possession of a person charged with a
non-firearm related criminal offence;
...there are very few firearms that have been stolen and
subsequently used in illegal acts or established as coming from a pathway from
a registered firearm owner, through theft, into a recorded crime.
During the public hearing, Dr John Lott gave evidence in relation to an
AIC report which showed that one in every 2500 guns were stolen, a rate of four
hundredths of one per cent. Of the 664 guns stolen as described in the report,
three were used in the commission of a crime. Dr Lott argued that by any
measure the costs of firearms regulation greatly outweighs any expected
According to the ACC an average of 1545 firearms per annum was reported
stolen during the period 2004-05 to 2008-9. The majority of reported stolen
firearms are rifles, followed by shotguns. Handguns generally make up less than
10 per cent of stolen firearms.
The committee heard that even though the current price of an illegal
handgun was up to $15 000, there had been no rise in gun thefts from licensed
The Law Enforcement Response to Illegal Firearms
Some witnesses claimed that firearms reform in Australia over the last
two decades had helped to significantly reduce the misuse of firearms with
firearm related homicide in Australia down from 31.9 per cent in 1998 to 18.9
per cent in 2013.
Others asserted that similar declines had been observed in countries
that did not adopt Australia's approach to gun control, including New Zealand.
Moreover, it is noted that knives continue to be the most commonly used
weapon in homicides, not guns, with 42 per cent of all homicide incidents in
2010–11 involving knives/sharp instruments compared with 14 per cent involving
the use of a firearm.
Since 1996 there has been a national approach to the regulation of
firearms, resulting from the 1996 National Firearms Agreement, the 1996
Firearms Buyback, the 2002 National Firearms Trafficking Policy Agreement and
the National Handgun Control Agreement. This has led to a large degree of consistency
between Australian jurisdictions in dealing with illegal firearms. In their
submission the Attorney General's Department stated that:
...the adoption of the Agreements... by the States and
Territories represents a significant achievement in developing a consistent
national approach to the regulation of firearms and firearm-related articles.
The claim in the Attorney General's Department submission that the lack
of a uniform approach to gun control in Australia prior to 1996 was a
significant factor in the diversion of firearms to the illicit market was not
supported by any evidence.
There were, and still are, ample opportunities for firearms to be
acquired for criminal purposes and no reason was offered to suggest how that
the differences between states had ever been a major contributor to this.
Mr Tim Bannister, CEO of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia,
argued that the focus of the NFA was flawed:
The concept of government registries and manually generated
permits to acquire and the like is nothing more than a holdover from a time
before electronic data retention, and it is not only completely ineffective but
incredibly expensive to maintain. However, here in Australian the vast majority
of state and federal law enforcement resources and strategies are now, and have
been for the past 18 years, mistakenly focused on spending massive amounts of
their time and efforts on monitoring and restricting the activities of just one
sector of our society, the licensed firearms owners, which every statistic and
every example show are responsible for almost no gun related violence.
The Attorney-General's Department noted that while there were sometimes 'calls
for the Commonwealth to take over the entire regulation of firearms... experience
has shown that State and Territory governments are the most appropriate level
of government' to manage gun related issues.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry welcome initiatives under
CrimTrac's 'National Firearms Interface' program that are designed to improve
data collection standards.
Importation of illegal firearms
The Committee found that it was not possible to accurately assess the
source of the importation of illicit firearms and firearm parts into Australia.
The Government is urged to focus on continuous improvement in border control
processes to assist in detecting illegal imports of firearms and firearm parts.
The recent Auditor General's Report into the Screening of International
Mail showed that screening processes may require some improvements. The Auditor
General stated that:
The ANAO's analysis of data from the agency's sampling
program indicated that around only 13 per cent of prohibited imports arriving
in international mail were seized in 2012-13. Customs advised that it now
considers the implementation of its sampling program was flawed, raising
questions about the integrity of its sampling data.
The Committee heard evidence from the Australian Customs and Border
Protection Service about its increased focus on screening international mail,
air cargo and sea cargo to detect illegal imports of firearms.
The NSW Police agreed that illegal imports contribute to the presence of
firearms in the community:
The fight against illegal gun crime must start at the nation's
borders. The day to day experience of front line police in NSW suggests that
the illegal importation of firearms, especially modern handguns and assault
rifles, is a key driver of gun crime in NSW.
Evidence was given that firearms and/or parts can be produced by a
reasonably proficient handyman in his home workshop. While 3D printers may be
of assistance in carrying out this task they were by no means integral to the
illegal manufacture of firearms.
Evidence received by the committee indicated that Commonwealth, State
and Territory laws relating to the import and manufacture of firearms or
firearm parts, including by 3D printers, was sufficient to enable prosecution
of any offence.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry agrees that State and
Territory governments should continue to regulate firearms but acknowledges
that data sharing between jurisdictions would contribute to greater
Banning semi-automatic handguns
No evidence was received that banning semi-automatic handguns would have
a material effect on the number of illegally held firearms in Australia or the
level of gun violence. The relatively small number of handguns stolen each
year, of which only a portion are semi-automatics, suggests a complete ban
would make no difference to gun violence. Evidence was received that a ban on
semi-automatic handguns would have a significant effect on sporting shooters
including Olympic and Commonwealth Games participants.
Victoria and NSW police did not seek further regulation but wanted more
resources for compliance activities. Victoria Police evidence revealed that the
majority of semi-automatic handguns seized are from criminals who are
prohibited from owning. It was not clear that a ban on semi-automatic handguns
would diminish their ability to obtain such handguns.
Stricter storage requirements
There was no credible evidence provided to support the conclusion that
the use of electronic alarms on residential gun safes would materially enhance
the security of stored firearms.
The Economic, Environmental and Social Benefits of Legal Firearm Use
The committee heard from several witnesses and received written
submissions describing the wide range of benefits to the Australian community
of the lawful use of firearms. Responsible recreational shooting and hunting is
a culturally important activity and legitimate industry that creates jobs and
injects significant funds into the economy. Farmers use firearms as a 'tool' of
their trade for the control of pests who wreak havoc on the environment and the
humane treatment of stock.
The committee did not seek to address the economics of a failure to
control illicit firearms or the financial and resource costs involved in
monitoring and enforcing firearms laws and their impact on legal firearms
The committee heard that there is no direct mechanism for shooting
groups and the firearms industry to be consulted since the abolition of the
Commonwealth firearms advisory committee.
Game hunting provides significant social and cultural benefits to our
nation. An independent study by the University of Queensland demonstrates that
the benefit of recreational hunting to the economy is at least $1 billion. The
number of recreational hunters in Australia was calculated to be at least 200
000, but more likely 300 000.
Evidence received from the Sporting Shooters' Association of Australia
conservatively estimates the contributions of hunting, pest control activities,
farming and the shooting sports to be between $1.25 and $1.5 billion per annum.
The Victorian Government estimates that the total economic impact of
game and pest animal hunting by game licence holders in 2013 was worth $439
million to the economy and that 60 per cent of hunting expenditure occurs in
In its submission Field and Game Australia Inc. stated that:
Participating in target shooting sports and hunting are
increasing in Australia with participants coming from a wide variety of
socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.
Competitive shooting is a legitimate use of firearms and Australian
shooters compete at Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth and world championship
level. The sport requires intense training and is already heavily regulated.
The Committee heard from Shooting Australia that those wishing to compete in
this legitimate sport must already undergo lengthy probationary periods.
The Committee also heard that recreational shooting provides benefits
for a wide variety of people including those with a disability or unable to
participate in contact sports. In some disciplines women can compete on equal
terms with men and the old with the young. Disabled shooters are provided with
similar opportunities as their able-bodied counterparts, and compete at local,
state, national and international levels. Additionally young Australian's have
established a network of young shooters, establishing a community across the
country that enjoys this legitimate use of firearms.
The Committee heard that firearms are a very important tool in
agriculture as they are used for a variety of purposes such as humanely putting
down an injured animal and controlling feral pests. Creating further regulation
on firearm use would be an unnecessary financial and practical burden on
farmers, as described by the National Farmer's Federation:
...there are set-up costs with access to firearms and then
ongoing maintenance. Most farm businesses in Australia are small businesses.
Many of them operate in a low cash environment. Particularly when things are
tighter, any additional cost has an impact on the ability of the farm business
to keep going. So any additional cost is a serious concern to us and our
Australian farmers are one of our country's best protectors of the
natural environment. Farmers in various agricultural and horticultural
industries take it upon themselves to remove feral, pest species of animals
including foxes, cats, wild pigs, wild dogs, rabbits and others. The Committee
heard that the cost of pest animals to agriculture is in excess of $750
Destroying these nuisance animals with firearms is far more humane than
baiting or poisoning which can often take a toll on native species:
...a firearm is a necessary adjunct to rural occupations in
respect of dealing with animals humanely and efficiently and we know that we
cannot keep dropping increasing thousands of tonnes of poison into the
environment trying to control feral animals when in fact the firearm is largely
underused and underutilised.
As well as protecting our native species from predators and competition
for food from introduced species, farmers are able to enjoy higher yields in
both livestock and horticultural settings with the assistance of firearms.
At an international level, there is no consensus on whether there exists
a relationship between the level of firearm availability and firearm-related
violence. Mr David Hawker pointed out that New Zealand declined the invitation
to join with Australia in adopting firearms registration in 1996. Canada has
since abandoned longarm registration, concluding it was not worth the cost. He
agreed that neither country had seen a subsequent increase in gun related
violence and stated 'we are going to considerable expense for questionable
Police witnesses were unable to account for the disparity between their
views on gun ownership and community safety and the record of Switzerland and
Israel that have extremely high gun ownership, but low levels of gun-related
In 1983, New Zealand moved away from the requirement to register
long-arms and focus available resources upon the person making an application
for a firearm licence by ensuring, as far as possible, that only fit and proper
people had access to firearms. The licensing system includes background and
reference checks, as well as safety training and a written test.
There are estimated to be about 1.1 million firearms in New Zealand—about
one for every four people. The rate of deaths involving firearms has decreased
in the past twenty years, including those resulting from assault, suicide, and
Additional evidence provided to the Committee showed that violent
offending with firearms remained stable in New Zealand at about 1.3 per cent of
all violent offending from 1985 - 2005.
Canada has followed New Zealand's example and focuses more on the person
making an application for a licence. Canada decreased the regulatory requirements
for long arms and found no subsequent increase in gun related violence.
Applicants are required to pass safety tests before being eligible for a
firearms license. Applicants are also subject to background checks which take
into account criminal, mental health, addiction, and domestic violence records.
According to 2010 data, over the past thirty years firearm-related homicides
have continued to decline.
The United Kingdom has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. In
1997 the UK banned all handguns. Only police officers, members of the armed
forces, or individuals with written permission from the Home Secretary may
lawfully own a handgun.
The ban did not reduce the number of active shooters. Pistol clubs
turned to pistol calibre carbines, which are more powerful and have higher
capacity magazines. The UK has also reported an increase in homicide with pistols
and in terms of crime: 'the ban on handguns is neither here nor there in the
It is reasonable to conclude that the banning of certain categories of
firearm only affects those who possess and use them lawfully. Those who use
them unlawfully are already outside the law.
Response to Chair's Recommendations
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry do not agree with
Recommendation 1 and Recommendation 2 of the Chair's report: the AIC should not
receive additional funding for further research programs.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry do not agree with
Recommendation 3 of the Chair's report: these matters should remain
responsibility for State and Territory governments.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry do not agree with
Recommendation 4 of the Chair's report: membership data held by gun clubs
should remain a responsibility of State and Territory governments.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry do not agree with
Recommendation 7 of the Chair's report: new regulations do not need to be introduced
to cover the manufacture of 3D printed firearms and firearm parts at this point
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry do not support
Recommendation 9 of the Chair's report and instead urge the government to
consider funding initiatives that educate the wider public on safe use of
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry support Recommendation 5
of the Chair's report, that an ongoing Australia-wide gun amnesty could
potentially reduce the number of illicit firearms in the community, especially
those firearms that were not given up as part of the 1996 buyback. It is,
however, noted that criminals are unlikely give up any firearms.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry support Recommendation 6
of the Chair's report: jurisdictions have already agreed to update their
firearm data holdings and transfer it to the National Firearms Interface.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry support Recommendation 8
of the Chair's report and agree that it is important to continue monitoring the
risks posed by 3D manufacturing of firearms.
Additional majority of Senators attending the inquiry Recommendations
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry recommend that the
Commonwealth commission a study into the social, economic and environmental
benefits of hunting across Australia, similar to the report that was released
by the Victorian Government in 2013.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry recommend the
Commonwealth establish a formal mechanism for industry and firearm user groups
to be consulted on issues relating to firearms regulation.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry recommend the Commonwealth
continue to pursue improvements in border control for detecting illegal imports
of firearms and firearms parts.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry recommend the
Commonwealth review its contribution to firearms regulation in the context of
the Reform of the Federation White Paper.
The majority of Senators attending the inquiry recommend State and
territory governments investigate avenues to decrease regulation of the firearm
industry to ease the economic burden on governments, industry and legal firearm
Hon Ian Macdonald
Senator for Western Australia
Senator Bridget McKenzie
Nationals Senator for Victoria
Senator David Leyonhjelm
Liberal Democrats Senator for New South Wales
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