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Gun politics have only become a notable issue in Australia since the 1980s. Low levels of violent crime through much of the 20th century kept levels of public concern about firearms low. However, in the last two decades of the century, following several mass killings and rising concern, the Australian Governments co-ordinated more restrictive firearms legislation with all State Governments.
State laws govern the possession and use of firearms in Australia. These laws were largely aligned under the 1996 National Agreement on Firearms. Anyone wishing to possess or use a firearm must have a Firearms Licence and, with some exceptions, be over the age of 18. Owners must have secure storage for their firearms.
Before someone can buy a firearm, he or she must obtain a Permit To Acquire. The first permit has a mandatory 28 day delay before it is first issued. In some states (e.g. Queensland, Victoria, and New South Wales), this is waived for second and subsequent firearms of the same class. For each firearm a "Genuine Reason" must be given, relating to pest control, hunting, target shooting, or collecting. Self-defense is not accepted as a reason for issuing a licence, though it may be legal under certain circumstances to use a legally-held firearm for self-defence. 
Each firearm in Australia must be registered to the owner by serial number. Some states allow an owner to store or borrow another person's registered firearm of the same category.
Firearms in Australia are grouped into Categories with different levels of control. The categories are:
(Participants in "approved" competitions may acquire handguns up to .45", currently Single Action Shooting and Metallic Silhouette. IPSC shooting is not "approved" for the larger calibres, for unstated reasons. Category H barrels must be at least 100 mm (3.94") long for revolvers, and 120 mm (4.72") for semi-automatic pistols, and magazines are restricted to 10 rounds. Handgun collectors are exempt from the laws stated above.)
Antique firearms can in some states be legally bought without licences. In other states they are subject to the same requirements as modern firearms.
All single-shot muzzleloading firearms manufactured before 1 January 1901 are considered antique firearms. Four states require licences for antique percussion revolvers and cartridge repeating firearms but in Queensland and Victoria a person may possess such a firearm without a license, so long as the firearm is registered.
Firearms were first introduced to Australia with European settlement. They were used for hunting, protection of persons and crops, in crime and fighting crime, and in many military engagements. From the landing of the First Fleet on 26 January 1788 there was conflict with aborigines over game, access to fenced land, and spearing of livestock. There were a number of massacres of aborigines and some of settlers and explorers. The history of these conflicts is contentious (see History wars).
From the beginning there were controls on firearms. The firearms issued to convicts (for meat hunting) and settlers (for hunting and protection) were stolen and misused, and this resulted in more controls. In January 1796, David Collins wrote that 'several attempts had been made to ascertain the number of arms in the possession of individuals, as many were feared to be in the hands of those who committed depredations; the crown recalled between two and three hundred stands of arms, but not 50 stands were accounted for'.
Australian colonists also used firearms in conflict with bushrangers; in duels, the last in 1854; in armed rebellions, such as the Castle Hill convict rebellion in 1804 and the 1854 Eureka rebellion. The Eureka Stockade in 1854 arose as a result of Government and police abuses against gold miners. A large force of police and soldiers assaulted the miners stockade. Six soldiers and twenty-two miners were killed.
From the 1850s to the 1950s, Australians developed a strong volunteer tradition in preparing defense against possible invaders, and sent volunteer expeditionary forces to most British wars. From this arose an enthusiastic civil marksmanship movement, a form of military reserve supported under the Defence Act until as late as 1996. The movement exists to this day in the fullbore Rifle Clubs affiliated with the State and National Rifle Associations of Australia. The highest trophy shows the significance of this sport to the nation: the Queen's Prize.
Game animals, in particular rabbits, wild ducks and kangaroos, were an important source of food and income for rural Australians. From settlement through into the 1970s Australian and immigrant families developed new land farms, and hunting provided security of food supply in sometimes desperate economic circumstances.
Gun laws were the responsibility of each colony and since Federation in 1901, of each state. The Commonwealth does not have constitutional authority over firearms, but it controls customs and military matters, and the external affairs power can be used to enforce internal control over matters agreed in external treaties.
During the 1920s, Australia, Canada and Great Britain became concerned about the rise of communism after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and imposed restrictions on handguns. However the rise of organised crime in Sydney and Melbourne, and many lurid underworld murders was also a definite factor  These restrictions have increased over the succeeding decades. In New South Wales, handguns were effectively banned after World War II but the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games sparked a new interest in the sport of pistol shooting and laws were changed to allow the sport to develop.
Rifles and shotguns were less restricted than handguns. State gun laws varied widely. Western Australia and the Northern Territory had severe restrictions even on sporting rifles and shotguns, but in Queensland and Tasmania they could be bought without restrictions.
Fully-automatic arms were banned on the Australian mainland from the 1930s, but remained legal in Tasmania until 1996.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Cold War concerns about ex-military rifles falling into the hands of communist radicals led New South Wales to place restrictions on the legal ownership of rifles of a military calibre (see: .303/25) while members of rifle clubs and military rifle clubs could own ex-military rifles. In the 1970s these restrictions were relaxed in New South Wales and military style rifles (both bolt-action and semi-automatic) once again became widely available, except in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
By the beginning of the 1980s, the relative popularity of shooting and the prevalence of firearms in the community began to fall as social attitudes changed and urbanisation increased. The rise of new values including feminism, environmental awareness and media reports of American gun violence created an awareness of gun control as a potential issue. The 1981 publication of Richard Harding's book "Firearms and Violence in Australian Life" and conferences in several cities involved academics, criminologists, police representatives and gun control activists. As in other countries, public concern over violence and its possible links to media violence also gave rise to a general increase in support for gun control and increased media involvement in the issue. Gun control activism in Australia became organised with the formation in 1981 of the "Committee to Control Gun Misuse" in Victoria, later to become Gun Control Australia.
From 1984 to 1996, multiple killings aroused public concern. The 1984 Milperra massacre was a major incident in a series of conflicts between various 'outlaw motorcycle gangs'. (These gangs are a major component of organised crime in Australia and continue to arm themselves illegally.) In 1987, the Hoddle Street massacre and the Queen Street massacre took place in Melbourne. In response, several states required the registration of all guns, and restricted the availability of self-loading rifle s and shotguns. In the Strathfield massacre in New South Wales, 1991, two were killed with a knife, and five more with a firearm. Tasmania passed a law in 1991 for firearm purchasers to obtain a license, though enforcement was light. Firearm laws in Tasmania and Queensland remained relatively relaxed for longarms. In 1995, Tasmania had the second lowest rate of homicides per head of population.
Shooting massacres in Australia and other English-speaking countries often occurred close together in time. Forensic psychiatrists attribute this to copycat behaviour, which is in many cases triggered by sensational media treatment. Mass murderers study media reports and imitate the actions and equipment that are sensationalised in them.
The Port Arthur massacre in 1996 transformed gun control legislation in Australia. Six weeks after the Dunblane massacre in Scotland, this mass killing at the notorious former convict prison at Port Arthur horrified the Australian public.
Thirty five people were killed and 21 wounded when Martin Bryant opened fire on tourists with two semi-automatic rifles: an AR-15 and an L1A1 SLR. When police revealed that he had purchased these weapons without any form of licensing from a Hobart gun dealer, there was uproar. 
In his article "A Killer in Profile", Patrick Bellamy explored Martin Bryant's lengthy history of mental disturbance, as well as indicating that while certainly a heinous crime, the general trend of gun crime in Tasmania was not reflected by the events of the Port Arthur massacre:
In response to the massacre, Prime Minister John Howard, then newly elected, immediately took the gun law proposals developed from the report of the 1988 National Committee on Violence and urged the states to adopt them under a National Firearms Agreement. This was necessary because the Australian Constitution does not give the Commonwealth power to enact gun laws.
The proposals included a ban on all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, and a tightly restrictive system of licensing and ownership controls. Some discussion of measures to allow owners to undertake modifications to reduce the capacity of magazine-fed shotguns occurred, but the Government decided not to permit this.
Public feeling after the Port Arthur shootings overwhelmed the opposition from gun owners' organisations and the Commonwealth was able to induce all states to agree to their proposals without change.
The Government planned a series of public meetings with farmers and sporting shooters to explain the proposed changes. In light of Prime Minister Howard's already-known dislike of firearms, many sporting shooters viewed the proposed changes as opportunistic, personalised 'political posturing' by Mr. Howard and a hasty 'knee-jerk' reaction by the Government that lacked a serious discussion of the issue beforehand. In the first meeting, on the advice of his security team, Mr. Howard wore a bullet-resistant vest, which was visible under his jacket. This was perceived as a deeply offensive act by the shooters, and their outrage was interpreted by many of the media and the public to show that ordinary shooters were dangerous and contemptible.
Thousands of shooters applied to join the Liberal Party of Australia in an attempt to influence the Government, but were barred from membership.
Because the Australian Constitution prevents the taking of property without just compensation the Federal Government decided to put a 1% levy on income tax for one year to finance the "buy back" purchase and destruction of all semi-automatic rifles including .22 rimfires, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns. The buyback was predicted to cost $A500 million.
In 2002, an international student killed two fellow students at Monash University in Victoria with pistols he had acquired as a member of a shooting club. As in 1996, the federal government urged state governments to review handgun laws, and, as a result, amended legislation was adopted in all states and territories. Changes included a 10-round magazine capacity limit, a calibre limit of not more than .38 inches (9.65 mm), a barrel length limit of not less than 120 mm (4.72 inches) for semi-automatic pistols and 100 mm (3.94 inches) for revolvers, and even stricter probation and attendance requirements for sporting target shooters. Whilst handguns for sporting shooters are nominally restricted to .38 inches as a maximum calibre, it is possible to obtain an endorsement allowing calibres up to .45 inches (11.43 mm) to be used for Metallic Silhouette or Single Action Shooting matches. These new laws were opposed by sporting shooters groups but also by their opponents, who saw it as paying for shooters to upgrade to new guns.
One government policy was to compensate shooters for giving up the sport. Approximately 25% of pistol shooters took this offer, and relinquished their licences and their right to own pistols for sport. In the state of Victoria $A21 million was spent "buying back" 18,124 firearms, while in the same period Victorians imported 15,184 firearms to replace their confiscated target pistols.
Historically, Australia has had relatively low levels of violent crime. Overall levels of homicide and suicide have remained relatively static for several decades, while the proportion of these crimes that involved firearms has consistently declined since the early 1980s. Between 1991 and 2001, the number of firearm related deaths in Australia declined 47%.
In the year 2002/2003, over 85% of firearms used to commit murder were unregistered. In 1997-1999, more than 80% of the handguns confiscated were never legally purchased or registered in Australia. Knives are used up to 3 times as often as firearms in robberies. The majority of firearm related deaths are suicides, of which many involved the use of 'hunting rifles'.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics , from 1985–2000, 78% of firearm deaths in Australia were suicides, and firearm suicides have fallen from about 22% of all suicides in 1992 to 7% of all suicides in 2005. Immediately following the Buyback there was a fall in firearm suicides which was more than offset by a 10% increase in total suicides in 1997 and 1998. There were concerted efforts in suicide prevention from this time and in subsequent years the total suicide rate resumed its decline.
The number of guns stolen has fallen dramatically from an average 4,195 per year from 1994-2000 to 1,526 in 2006-2007. This is because of a campaign by police and shooting bodies, such as the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia’s ‘Secure Your Gun, Secure Your Sport’ drive, to encourage secure storage of guns. Long guns are more often stolen opportunistically in home burglaries, but few homes have handguns and a substantial proportion of stolen handguns are taken from security firms and other businesses. Only a tiny proportion, 0.06% of licensed firearms, are stolen in a given year. Only a small proportion of those firearms are recovered, and in only 3% of thefts were they afterward connected to an actual crime or found in the possession of a person charged with serious offences.
Concern has been raised about the number of smuggled pistols reaching Australia, particularly in New South Wales. However, the ‘grey market’, in which handguns that were made inoperable and then reversed to be made functional again, and longarms that have never been registered in Australia, and then made available illegally to criminals is more of a concern.
In 1997, the Prime Minister appointed the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) to monitor the effects of the gun buyback. The AIC have published a number of papers reporting trends and statistics around gun ownership and gun crime, which they have found to be mostly related to illegally-held firearms. In 2002 the AIC announced that they had proof of many lives saved, but their paper which was released months later demonstrated only continuing downtrends in gun deaths since many years before the buyback.
In 2000, the American National Rifle Association claimed that violent crimes had increased in Australia since the introduction of new laws based on some highly selective statistics from newspaper articles. Federal Attorney General Daryl Williams accused the NRA of falsifying government statistics and urged the NRA to "remove any reference to Australia" from its website.
In 2003, CLASS (The Coalition of Law Abiding Sporting Shooters) stated that no benefit-cost analysis of the buyback had been published, and that scientific debate was politicised and ignored benefits of shooting and costs forced on legitimate owners.
Some researchers have claimed a dramatic effect on firearm deaths, by counting the drop in firearm suicides and ignoring rising suicides by substitute methods. One such author is Ozanne-Smith et al. (2004) in the journal Injury Prevention.
The head of the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn, noted that the level of legal gun ownership in New South Wales increased in recent years, and that the 1996 legislation had had little effect on violence. In 2006, the lack of a measurable effect from the 1996 firearms legislation was reported in the British Journal of Criminology by Dr Jeanine Baker (a former state President of the SSAA(SA)) and Dr Samara McPhedran (Women in Shooting and Hunting). De Leo, Dwyer, Firman & Neulinger, studied suicide methods in men from 1979 to 1998 and found a rise in hanging suicides that started slightly before the fall in gun suicides. As hanging suicides rose at about the same rate as gun suicides fell, it is possible that there was some substitution of suicide methods.
Don Weatherburn described the Baker & McPhedran article as "reputable" and "well-conducted" and stated that the available data are insufficient to draw stronger conclusions. Weatherburn noted the importance of actively policing illegal firearm trafficking and argued that there was little evidence that the new laws had helped in this regard.
A study co-authored by Professor Simon Chapman, former convenor of the Coalition for Gun Control, argued that reduction in firearm numbers had prevented mass shootings because in the 18 years prior to the Port Arthur massacre there were 13 mass shootings and in the decade since 1996 there have been none. Data interpretation of trends in this study differs from other authors, while clearly being based on the same data. Media reports gave Professor Chapman wide publicity while failing to reveal his involvement in gun control activism. Since then, it has been revealed in a Senate Inquiry that Chapman's research was fast tracked for publication by the journal Injury Prevention, bypassing the standard peer review process.
Baker and McPhedran have also published a meta-study pointing out that differing authors' conclusions were based on the same data, but that interpretations diverged.
An independent 2008 study on the effects of the firearm buybacks by Dr Wang-Sheng Lee and Dr Sandy Suardi of Melbourne University’s Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research studied the data with more sophisticated methods and concluded: "Despite the fact that several researchers using the same data have examined the impact of the NFA on firearm deaths, a consensus does not appear to have been reached. In this paper, we re-analyze the same data on firearm deaths used in previous research, using tests for unknown structural breaks as a means to identifying impacts of the NFA. The results of these tests suggest that the NFA did not have any large effects on reducing firearm homicide or suicide rates."
Dr Lee and Dr Suardi received criticism about their findings from anti-gun groups. However, the researchers said they had no vested interest in the findings and that the facts speak for themselves.
In early 2009 this was followed by a paper from research at the Australian Institute of Suicide Prevention at Griffith University which concluded:
Firearms laws are the responsibility of state governments, and usually these Governments act on the recommendations of their Police services in firearms matters. Before 1996, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia all had different laws, in Queensland long guns were not licenced, however, the owners of firearms were required to be licenced from 1988, and licences were only introduced for long guns in Tasmania in 1991. Western Australia and the Northern Territory had tight restrictions, especially on centrefire semi-automatic firearms.
Since 1996 all States subscribe to the National Agreement on Firearms (NAF). The NAF was instituted through the Australian Police Ministers Conference, as a Federal intervention over-riding major differences in State laws.
Until 1996, the Federal Government had little role in firearms law. Following the Port Arthur massacre, the Howard Government (1996–2007), with strong media and public support, enforced uniform gun laws on the states. Despite his strong support for the USA on many other issues, former Prime Minister John Howard frequently referred to the USA to explain his opposition to civilian firearms ownership and use in Australia, stating that he did not want Australia to go "down the American path". In one interview on Sydney radio station 2GB he said "we will find any means we can to further restrict them because I hate guns... ordinary citizens should not have weapons. We do not want the American disease imported into Australia". In a television interview shortly before the tenth anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre, he reaffirmed his stance: "I did not want Australia to go down the American path. There are some things about America I admire and there are some things I don't. And one of the things I don't admire about America is their... slavish love of guns. They're evil". During the same television interview, Prime Minister Howard also stated that he saw the outpouring of grief in the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre as "an opportunity to grab the moment and think about a fundamental change to gun laws in this country".
Gun control has been a source of some friction between the National Party and the Liberal Party, who together formed the coalition Federal Government from 1996 to 2007. The National Party had strong support from rural voters, many of whom were opposed to the Federal government's moves towards gun control. The 1996 National Firearms Agreement has been blamed for the defeat of the National Party in the 1998 Queensland elections and generating much of the support for the 1997 rise of the One Nation Party.
In the November 2007 Federal election, the Australian Labor Party replaced the Liberal Party in government. The new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has personally indicated support for the shooting sports (Rudd was a patron of the shooting clubs at the Belmont shooting complex in Rudd's Brisbane electorate and Rudd was an active clay target shooter when he was younger) but Labor's policy is to continue supporting the National Agreement on Firearms.
Gun control groups in Australia have very few active members but a high media profile. The main focus of these groups is on tightening firearm controls, reducing legal gun ownership in the hope of reducing the number of firearm-related deaths in Australia. Active lobbying in Australia is conducted by two main groups: Gun Control Australia and the National Coalition for Gun Control (NCGC).
The NCGC had a high profile in the public debate up to and immediately after the Port Arthur Massacre. Rebecca Peters, Roland Browne, Simon Chapman and Reverend Tim Costello (brother of Peter Costello the former Howard Government Federal Treasurer) appeared in media reports and authored articles to support their aims. In the aftermath of Port Arthur a number of public health bodies added their support to the NCGC.
In 1996 the NCGC received the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s Community Human Rights award.
In 2003 Samantha Lee as chair of the NCGC was financed by a Churchill Fellowship to publish a paper  arguing that current handgun legislation is too loose, that police officers who are shooters have a conflict of interest, and that licensed private firearm ownership per se presents a threat to women and children. In a late 2005 press release, Roland Browne as co-chair of the NCGC, advocated further restrictions on handguns.
Gun Control Australia has published a number of booklets, maintains a website and has an office in Ross House in Flinders Lane in Melbourne. The NCGC has no website or public contact details and does not solicit public membership.
The public debate on gun control is essentially conducted via the media. Newspaper and broadcast media usually support gun control, publishing editorials in favour of strong restrictions on firearms. Firearms advocates write 'letters to the editor' to put their positions.
Shooting clubs have existed in Australia since the mid 1800s. They are mainly concerned with protecting the viability of hunting, collecting and target shooting sports, rather than keeping firearms for self-defence as in the USA. Australian shooters regard their sport as under permanent threat from increasingly restrictive legislation. They argue that they have been made scapegoats by politicians, the media, and anti-gun activists for the acts of criminals who generally use illegal firearms. Their researchers have found scant evidence that increasing restrictions have improved public safety, despite the high costs and severe regulatory barriers imposed on shooters in Australia.
The largest organisation of firearms owners is the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, with over 120,000 members (2009 figures). SSAA state branches are responsible for lobbying on local issues, while SSAA National addresses Federal legislation and international issues. SSAA National has non-government organisation (NGO) status at the United Nations and is a founding member of The World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities (WFSA), which also has NGO status. In 2002, the SSAA was the sole shooting organisation to win exemptions for handgun calibre restrictions for its Handgun Metallic Silhouette and Single Action Shooting competitions. SSAA National have a number of people working in research and lobbying roles. In 2008, they appointed journalist and media manager Tim Bannister as Federal Parliamentary lobbyist.
The Combined Firearms Council of Victoria was created in late 2002 and has been very active in the debate in Victoria. The CFCV ran advertisements in the 2002 Victorian State Election. The CFCV made voting recommendations at the 2002 and 2006 Victorian state elections, supporting specific candidates rather than political parties. Four of the six ALP MPs elevated to the front bench after the 2002 Victorian election were supported by the CFCV. A Firearms Consultative Committee, established in 2005 in Victoria, led to several changes to firearms legislation that benefited handgun users and gun collectors.
There are several other bodies, such as Field and Game Australia, the National Rifle Association of Australia and Pistol Australia which with their state counterparts concentrate on a range of sporting and political issues ranging from Olympic competition through to conservation activities. These associations have produced gold-medal winning performances at the Olympics in shotgun, and in the Commonwealth Games in rifle, pistol and shotgun. Field and Game Australia undertake a number of conservation activities and are recognised as leaders in waterfowl habitat restoration.
The Shooters Party is a political party in New South Wales that "represent[s] the rights of law abiding firearms owners and users". Its founder, John Tingle, served as an elected member of the upper house of New South Wales parliament, the Legislative Council, from 1995 until he retired in late 2006. The party currently holds two seats in the Legislative Council 
The One Nation Party in 1997-98 briefly gained national prominence and had strong support from shooters. A number of minor political parties such as Liberal Democratic Party of Australia, Outdoor Recreation Party, and Country Alliance have pro-shooter platforms. The Australian Greens and former Australian Democrats policies are closely aligned with the gun control organisations.
Weapons Act 1990 (Qld)
Weapons Regulation 1996 (Qld)
Weapons Categories Regulation 1997 (Qld)