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Executive Summary

The sale, possession, and use of firearms are regulated by the Australian states and territories, with cross-border trade matters addressed at the federal level.  In 1996, following the Port Arthur massacre, the federal government and the states and territories agreed to a uniform approach to firearms regulation, including a ban on certain semiautomatic and self-loading rifles and shotguns, standard licensing and permit criteria, storage requirements and inspections, and greater restrictions on the sale of firearms and ammunition.  Firearms license applicants would be required to take a safety course and show a “genuine reason” for owning a firearm, which could not include self-defense.  The reasons for refusing a license would include “reliable evidence of a mental or physical condition which would render the applicant unsuitable for owning, possessing or using a firearm.”  A waiting period of twenty-eight days would apply to the issuing of both firearms licenses and permits to acquire each weapon.

Alongside legislative reforms to implement the National Firearms Agreement, a national buyback program for prohibited weapons took place in 1996-1997 and resulted in more than 700,000 weapons being surrendered.  Further reforms were later implemented as a result of agreements made in 2002 on firearms trafficking and handguns, as was a national buyback of newly prohibited handguns and associated parts.

A large amount of information and analysis is available regarding the number of firearms in Australia and their use in crimes or incidents resulting in death.  The most recent relevant report of the Australian Institute of Criminology states that the “number of victims of firearm-perpetrated homicide (i.e. murder and manslaughter) has declined by half between 1989–90 and 2009–10 from 24 to 12 percent.”  Recent reports have also examined the number of illicit firearms and firearm thefts in Australia.  Among the activities relating to gun control that took place in 2012 was the signing of a new intergovernmental agreement to tackle illicit firearms and firearms trafficking.

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On April 28, 1996, a twenty-eight-year-old gunman armed with a semiautomatic rifle shot and killed thirty-five people and wounded eighteen others at several locations in and around Port Arthur, a popular tourist area in Tasmania, Australia.  The gunman survived and pleaded guilty to multiple homicides.[1]  He received thirty-five life sentences without the possibility of parole.[2]

Prior to this incident, gun laws in Australia could be seen as relatively lenient, and there were large variations in the regulations across the six states and two mainland territories.[3]  Firearms regulation is the responsibility of individual Australian states and territories, as section 51 of the Australian Constitution does not confer lawmaking powers in relation to firearms on the federal Parliament.[4] Federal laws can be enacted regarding the import of firearms and other weapons under the overseas trade and commerce powers of the federal Parliament.[5]  The Australian Constitution does not contain any explicit gun ownership rights.

In response to the Port Arthur massacre, the Australasian Police Ministers’ Council (APMC) convened a special meeting on May 10, 1996, and agreed to a national plan for the regulation of firearms promoted by then Prime Minister John Howard.[6]  The resolutions made at that meeting subsequently became the Nationwide Agreement on Firearms (commonly referred to as the National Firearms Agreement).[7]  The proposals emerged from earlier recommendations of the National Committee on Violence, which was established in 1988 following two mass killings in Melbourne involving high-powered rifles.[8]  The APMC had previously considered the need for a uniform approach to firearms regulation at meetings held between 1988 and 1995,[9] and some state and federal laws had been changed during this period in response to shooting incidents.[10]

The 1996 National Firearms Agreement led to the considerable revision of the laws of the states and territories[11] and the implementation of a national buyback program to encourage firearms owners and dealers to surrender prohibited weapons.

After 1996 there were further shooting incidents, which led to additional action by Australian federal and state governments, including the National Handgun Agreement (2002), National Handgun Buyback Act 2003 (Cth), and National Firearms Trafficking Policy Agreement (2002).[12

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Relevant Legislation

The restrictions and licensing requirements relating to the purchase, possession, and use of firearms (including imitation firearms) in Australia are currently controlled by the following state and territory instruments:

  • New South Wales: Firearms Act 1996, Weapons Prohibition Act 1998, and associated regulations[13]
  • Victoria: Firearms Act 1996, Control of Weapons Act 1990, and associated regulations[14]
  • Queensland: Weapons Act 1990 and associated regulations[15]
  • Western Australia: Firearms Act 1973 and associated regulations[16]
  • South Australia: Firearms Act 1977 and associated regulations[17]
  • Tasmania: Firearms Act 1996 and associated regulations[18]
  • Northern Territory: Firearms Act and associated regulations[19]
  • Australian Capital Territory: Firearms Act 1996, Prohibited Weapons Act 1996, and associated regulations[20]

A full list of current legal instruments for each state and territory are provided in an appendix to this report.

At the federal level, the importation of firearms is subject to the restrictions in Regulation 4F and Schedule 6 of the Customs (Prohibited Goods) Regulations 1956 (Cth).[21

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1996 National Firearms Agreement and Buyback Program

The resolutions agreed to at the APMC meeting on May 10, 1996,[22] provided for the establishment of a uniform approach to firearms regulation that would include

  • a federal ban on the importation of “all semi-automatic self-loading and pump action longarms, and all parts, including magazines, for such firearms, included in Licence Category D, and control of the importation of those firearms included in Licence Category C.”  The sale, resale, transfer, ownership, manufacture, and use of such firearms would also be banned by the states and territories, other than in exceptional circumstances (relating to military or law enforcement purposes and occupational categories, depending on the category of the firearm);[23]
  • standard categories of firearms, including the two largely prohibited categories (C and D), which include certain semiautomatic and self-loading rifles and shotguns, and a restricted category for handguns (category H);[24]
  • a requirement for a separate permit for the acquisition of every firearm, with a twenty-eight-day waiting period applying to the issuing of such permits,[25] and the establishment of a nationwide firearms registration system;[26]
  • a uniform requirement for all firearms sales to be conducted only by or through licensed firearms dealers, and certain minimum principles that would underpin rules relating to the recording of firearms transactions by dealers and right of inspection by police;[27]
  • restrictions on the quantity of ammunition that may be purchased in a given period and a requirement that dealers only sell ammunition for firearms for which the purchaser is licensed;[28]
  • ensuring that “personal protection” would not be regarded as a “genuine reason” for owning, possessing, or using a firearm under the laws of the states and territories;[29]
  • standardized classifications to define a “genuine reason” that an applicant must show for owning, possessing, or using a firearm, including reasons relating to sport shooting, recreational shooting/hunting, collecting, and occupational requirements  (additional requirements of showing a genuine need for the particular type of firearm and securing related approvals would be added for firearms in categories B, C, D, and H);[30]
  • in addition to the demonstration of a “genuine reason,” other basic requirements would apply for the issuing of firearms licenses, specifically that the applicant must be aged eighteen years or over, be a “fit and proper person,” be able to prove his or her identity, and undertake adequate safety training[31] (safety training courses would be subject to accreditation and be “comprehensive and standardised across Australia for all licence categories”);[32]
  • firearms licenses would be required to bear a photograph of the licensee, be endorsed with a category of firearm, include the holder’s address, be issued after a waiting period of not less than twenty-eight days, be issued for a period of no more than five years, and contain a reminder of safe storage responsibilities;[33]
  • licenses would only be issued subject to undertakings to comply with storage requirements and following an inspection by licensing authorities of the licensee’s storage facilities;[34]
  • minimum standards for the refusal or cancellation of licenses, including criminal convictions for violent offenses in the past five years, unsafe storage of firearms, failure to notify of a change of address, and “reliable evidence of a mental or physical condition which would render the applicant unsuitable for owning, possessing or using a firearm”;[35] and
  • the establishment of uniform standards for the security and storage of firearms, including a requirement that ammunition be stored in locked containers separate from any firearms.  The minimum standards for category C, D, and H firearms would include “storage in a locked, steel safe with a thickness to ensure it is not easily penetrable, bolted to the structure of a building.”[36]

The above resolutions were implemented through the passage of new or amending legislation and associated regulations by the states and territories.[37]  A review of the relevant legislation by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) in 2008 found general compliance with the 1996 National Firearms Agreement (and the 2002 agreements regarding handguns and firearms trafficking discussed below) across the states and territories but also determined that there remained some inconsistencies between the jurisdictions.[38]  Some amendments to the relevant laws were subsequently made in response to the AIC review.

In addition to requiring law changes to implement the above resolutions, the agreement provided for the establishment of a twelve-month national amnesty and compensation program, to be accompanied by a public education campaign, after which the jurisdictions would apply “severe penalties” for breaches of the firearms control laws.[39]  This resolution was implemented through a national firearms buyback program, which saw the federal Parliament enacting the National Firearms Program Implementation Act 1996 (Cth).[40]  The Medicare Levy Amendment Act 1996 (Cth) was also enacted in relation to providing funding for the compensation to be paid to gun owners who handed in weapons that fell within the prohibited categories.[41]

The buyback program started in most states on October 1, 1996, and ended on September 30, 1997.  More than 640,000 prohibited firearms were surrendered nationwide as part of the buyback program.[42]  In addition, it was reported that about 60,000 nonprohibited firearms were voluntarily surrendered without compensation.[43]  According to a telephone poll conducted in 1999 on behalf of the federal government by Gun Control Australia, there were about 3.25 million guns in Australia prior to the 1996–1997 buyback program.[44]  One study on the impact of the buyback states that “[i]n terms of the absolute numbers of guns destroyed, Australia’s gun buyback ranks as the largest destruction of civilian firearms in any country over the period 1991–2006.”[45]  The buyback was reported to have resulted in the withdrawal of one-fifth of the stock of civilian firearms in the country and substantially reduced the number of households possessing a firearm.[46

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2002 Trafficking and Handgun Agreements

In July 2002, the APMC agreed to several resolutions aimed at controlling the illegal trade in firearms in Australia.  The National Firearm Trafficking Policy Agreement called for

  • increased border protection;
  • introduction of nationally consistent regulation of the legal manufacture of firearms;
  • the establishment of new offences or substantial penalties for matters relating to:
    • the illegal possession and supply of firearms;
    • the defacing of serial numbers;
    • conspiracy to commit interstate firearm wrongdoings; and
  • tighter recording and reporting provisions for dealer transactions involving firearm and major firearm parts.[47]

In addition to subsequent changes to state and territory legislation in response to the resolutions, an amendment to the federal Criminal Code Act 1995 was enacted to make it a criminal offense, “in the course of trade and commerce between any states and territories, to illegally dispose of or acquire a firearm, or to take or send a firearm from one state or territory to another, intending that the firearm will be disposed of illegally.” [48]

Later in 2002, on October 21, two people were killed and five injured as a result of a shooting incident in a classroom at Monash University in Melbourne, Victoria.  The gunman, who had been armed with several loaded handguns, was a licensed pistol owner and member of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia.  He was later found not guilty of the murders on the grounds of mental impairment and sentenced to spend twenty-five years in a psychiatric hospital.[49]  The incident led to renewed debate about gun control laws, particularly in relation to handguns.[50]

At a meeting of the APMC in November 2002, various resolutions were agreed to, which included restricting the classes of legal handguns that can be imported or possessed for sporting purposes, changing licensing requirements for handguns, and exploring options for a buyback program for those guns deemed illegal.[51]  The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) endorsed the resolutions in December 2002, and these formed the National Handgun Control Agreement.[52

The agreed restrictions were implemented through state and territory amendment legislation[53] and through changes to the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 (Cth).[54]  The latter instrument was amended to prevent the importation of prohibited handguns and handgun parts with the following features by sporting shooters, or their direct sale by firearms dealers/importers to sporting shooters:

  • a calibre that is greater than .38, unless the handgun is used to participate in a specially accredited sporting
    event in that case a calibre of up to .45 will be permitted
  • a barrel length of less than 120 mm for semi-automatic handguns and less than 100 mm for revolvers and
    single-shot handguns, unless the handgun is a highly specialised target pistol
  • a magazine/shot capacity that exceeds 10 rounds.[55]

The federal Parliament also enacted the National Handgun Buyback Act 2003, which provided for financial assistance to be granted to states in connection with the implementation of a buyback program for handguns that did not comply with the new restrictions.[56]  The buyback program, which was implemented by the individual states and territories, resulted in about 70,000 handguns and more than 278,000 parts and accessories being surrendered.[57]

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Statistical Information and Analysis

There have been multiple studies and reports over the years that provide statistics and analysis regarding various aspects of gun ownership and violence in Australia, including in relation to the impact of the 1996 reforms and buyback program.  The references below to both government and academic reports or studies are not intended to be exhaustive.

       Government Information

In 1997, following an agreement at the July 1996 APMC meeting, the AIC established a national firearms monitoring program, which includes tracking and analyzing firearm theft information.[58]  The AIC also monitors homicide rates and other violent crimes,[59] including the weapons associated with these.[60]  The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) provides reports and analysis on aspects of nationally significant crime, and in February 2012 it was asked to undertake an intelligence assessment of the illegal firearms market.[61]  Findings of some of the reports of these government entities include the following:

       Firearm Numbers

  • An AIC report published in 1988 stated that there were at least 3.5 million privately owned guns of all types (including registered, unregistered, licensed, and unlicensed) in Australia, with more than a quarter of Australian households possessing a gun.[62]
  • In June 2012, the ACC report on illicit firearms noted that there are more than 2.75 million registered firearms in Australia held by more than 730,000 individual license holders[63] (the current population of Australia is approximately 22.8 million[64].
  • An AIC report from 2008 on the criminal use of handguns in Australia found that by June 30, 2006, 130,903 handguns had been registered in Australia (excluding South Australia), which accounted for 6% of all registered firearms at that time.[65]
  • The ACC recently made a “conservative estimate” that there are more than 250,000 long-arms and 10,000 handguns in the illicit firearms market in Australia.[66]  Of these, 44% were not surrendered or registered after the Port Arthur massacre and 12% were stolen or the subject of staged theft.[67]
  • The AIC’s 2008–09 report on firearm theft estimated that around 1,500 firearms are stolen each year, the majority being long-arms, with relatively few firearms recovered.[68]
  • The 2008–09 firearm theft report also provided information on the status of compliance with firearms storage laws, finding that 60% of owners who reported a firearms theft in that year were determined to have complied with these laws.  The principal location for firearm theft was private dwellings.[69]  Between 2004–05 and 2008-09, around 25% of firearm owners who reported a theft of their firearms were “found, or suspected, to be in breach of one or more firearms laws.”[70]

       Firearm Deaths

  • The AIC’s 1988 report found that one third of all reported murders in Australia were committed with firearms, with gunshot wounds being “the single most common cause of death among homicide victims” and with research showing that “guns substantially increase the probability that death, rather than injury, will be the end result of a firearm attack.”[71]
  • A 2003 report on firearms-related deaths between 1991 and 2001 found that
[i]n 1991 there were 629 firearm related deaths in Australia compared to 333 in 2001.  This represents a 47 per cent decrease in firearms deaths between 1991 and 2001.  The incidence of both firearms suicides and firearms homicides almost halved over the 11 year period.  While the number of firearms homicides has continued to decline, with 2001 recording the lowest number of firearms homicides during this period (n=47), the number of firearms suicides declined consistently from 1991 to 1998, but has since fluctuated.  The number of firearm related accidents also fluctuated over the same period, from 29 firearms accidents in 1991 to 18 in 2001, but ranging between 15 and 45 over this time.  While the numbers are quite small, the year 2000 recorded the highest number of firearms accidents (45 accidents) during the 11 year period.[72]
  • The AIC’s 2008 handgun report stated that firearms are used in an average of 20% of homicides committed each year in Australia, and that “[i]n 2005–06, firearm homicides fell to their lowest level in 13 years: 14 percent of all homicide victims. Since 1992–93, firearm homicide as a proportion of all homicides has halved, continuing a general downward trend in firearm homicide that began in the early 1980s.”[73]  In terms of handgun use in homicides, the report found that
[d]uring the early to mid-1990s, handguns accounted for less than 20 percent of all firearm homicides, but over the following 10 years this percentage increased to around 50 percent.  This increase immediately followed the National Firearms Agreement in 1996, and it has been proposed that restrictions in the availability and access to certain firearms, and who can own a firearm, led to greater use of illegitimate means to acquire firearms, particularly those that are easily concealed such as handguns.[74]
  • Other findings in the handgun report included that “[t]he majority of homicides, regardless of the method used to kill the victim, were ‘single victim/single offender’ incidents. Homicides committed by an individual using a handgun were more likely to result in multiple victims than homicides in general (11% compared with 5%), but only slightly more so when compared with all firearm homicides (9%).”[75]  Furthermore, the report stated that “[t]he majority of firearms used to commit homicide in Australia since 1989–90 were held unlawfully at the time.”[76]
  • The most recently available AIC annual crime survey found that “[t]he proportion of homicide victims killed by offenders using firearms in 2009–10 represented a decrease of 18 percentage points from the peak of 31 percent in 1995–96 (the year in which the Port Arthur massacre occurred with the death of 35 people, which subsequently led to the introduction of stringent firearms legislation).”[77]
  • A 2012 AIC report on firearm trafficking referred to a forthcoming study in stating that

[i]n Australia, the number of victims of firearm-perpetrated homicide (ie murder and manslaughter) has declined by half between 1989–90 and 2009–10 from 24 to 12 percent. (Chan & Payne forthcoming). The predominance of handgun-perpetrated homicide, as a proportion of all firearm homicide, rose from 17 to 45 percent between 1992–93 and 2006–07 (Bricknell 2008b; Dearden & Jones 2008) but dropped again in the following three years to a little over 10 percent. For the most recent year available (2009–10), handgun homicide comprised 13 percent of all homicides that were committed with a firearm (Chan & Payne forthcoming).[78]

       Nongovernment Studies

A range of Australian firearms statistics can also be found on the website of, a nonprofit entity hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health at The University of Sydney.[79]  In January 2013, the author of that website, Associate Professor Philip Alpers, published figures relating to the impact of multiple gun buybacks and amnesties on the number of guns in Australia.[80]  His research found that, due to an increasing number of guns being imported into Australia, “Australians own as many guns now as they did at the time of the Port Arthur massacre, despite more than 1 million firearms being handed in and destroyed.”[81]  Alpers said that most of the new guns being imported are not military style semiautomatics and also that handguns are difficult to import.  He also claimed that there was little evidence to suggest that illegally imported weapons are a significant issue, with the main problem being criminals obtaining legal firearms that had been lost or stolen.  However, a police superintendent in New South Wales refuted this, saying that illegal imports are in fact a big challenge for police.[82]

Professor Alpers’ paper for a conference on firearms policy at Johns Hopkins University held in January 2013 discussed the buybacks and cited various studies of the impact of Australia’s firearms law reforms.[83]

Papers by other academic researchers relating to the impact of firearms law reforms include the following:

  • J. Ozanne-Smith et al., Firearm Related Deaths: The Impact of Regulatory Reform, 10(5) Inj. Prev. 280 (2004).  This paper examined firearms-related deaths in the state of Victoria in the context of legislative reforms in 1988 and 1996.  It found that “[a]fter initial Victorian reforms, a significant downward trend was seen for numbers of all firearm related deaths between 1988 and 1995 (17.3% in Victoria compared with the rest of Australia, p<0.0001).  A further significant decline between 1997 and 2000 followed the later reforms.  After the later all-state legislation, similar strong declines occurred in the rest of Australia from 1997 (14.0% reduction compared with Victoria, p = 0.0372).”[84]
  • S. Chapman et al., Australia’s 1996 Gun Law Reforms: Faster Falls in Firearm Deaths, Firearm Suicides, and a Decade Without Mass Shootings, 12(6) Inj. Prev. 365 (2006).  This paper states that “[i]n the 18 years before the gun law reforms, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia, and none in the 10.5 years afterwards.” [85]
  • Jeanine Baker & Samara McPhedran, Gun Laws and Sudden Death: Did the Australian Firearms Legislation of 1996 Make a Difference?, Br. J. Criminology (2006).  The authors commented that the stricter gun laws introduced post-1996 in Australia did not affect firearms homicide rates and may also not have impacted gun suicide and accidental shooting death rates.  They concluded that “[t]here is insufficient evidence to support the simple premise that reducing the stockpile of licitly held civilian firearms will result in a reduction in either firearm or overall sudden death rates.”[86]
  • Christine Neill & Andrew Leigh, Weak Tests and Strong Conclusions: A Re-Analysis of Gun Deaths and the Australian Firearms Buyback (Australian National University Center for Economic Policy Discussion Paper No. 555, June 2007).  This paper revisits the Baker and McPhedran study above as well as examining the approaches in the Ozanne-Smith and Chapman studies.  The authors state that their re-analysis of the data, either by using a longer time series or the log of the death rate, “shows a statistically significant reduction in deaths due to both firearm homicides and suicides.” [87]
  • Wang-Sheng Lee & Sandy Suardi, The Australian Firearms Buyback and Its Effect on Gun Deaths (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research Working Paper No. 17/08, Aug. 2008).  This paper also reanalyzes data on firearms deaths that was used in previous research, using figures spanning the period from 1915 to 2004.[88]  The authors used “an alternative time-series approach based on unknown structural breaks” in analyzing the data to determine the impact of the National Firearms Agreement on homicide and suicide.[89]  They conclude that “[u]sing a battery of structural break tests, there is little evidence to suggest that [the NFA] had any significant effects on firearm homicides and suicides.  In addition, there also does not appear to be any substitution effects – that reduced access to firearms may have led those bent on committing homicide or suicide to use alternative methods.”[90]  Finally, the authors state that “[a]lthough gun buybacks appear to be a logical and sensible policy that helps to placate the public’s fears, the evidence so far suggests that in the Australian context, the high expenditure incurred to fund the 1996 gun buyback has not translated into any tangible reductions in terms of firearm deaths.”[91]

In a more recent study by the authors of the 2007 discussion paper listed above, the distinctions between the Australian firearm buybacks and those in other countries were noted, including differences in scale, the fact that the policy was applied nationwide and was accompanied by a ban on particular weapons, differences in geography (i.e., the lack of land borders), and the absence of firearms manufacturing in Australia.[92]  The paper examined the gun buyback and gun death data both across states and over time, and considered a number of variables and trends, in order to answer the question of “whether firearm deaths dropped proportionately more in states where relatively more firearms were bought back.”[93] The paper includes the following information and analysis:

  • Nationally, firearm suicides dropped from a rate of 2.2 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 0.8 in 2006.  Firearm homicides also dropped, from 0.37 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 0.15 in 2006.  These figures show “drops of 65% and 59%, respectively, and among a population of 20 million individuals, represent a decline in the number of deaths by firearm suicide of about 300 and in the number of deaths by firearm homicide of about 40 per year.  At the same time, the non-firearm suicide rate has fallen by 27% and the non-firearm homicide rate by 59%.”[94]
  • The authors found that “[t]he effect of the buyback on firearm suicides is clear.  Withdrawing 3,500 guns per 100,000 individuals (approximately the rate of withdrawal due to the NFA) is estimated to reduce firearm suicides by 1.9 per 100,000.  This represents a 74% decline from the 1990–95 average of 2.55, or 376 fewer deaths per year given Australia’s population of around 20 million.”[95]
  • The authors further stated that “[t]he estimates show very consistently a marked relative decline in firearm suicides in states with higher buyback rates after 1997,” while the “estimates on firearm homicides are less consistent, likely because of the greater volatility in firearm homicides.”[96]  In addition, “the estimates show no evidence that higher buyback rates were associated with any statistically significant difference in non-firearm homicide or suicide rates.”[97]
  • The authors concluded that “key studies based on time series data have agreed that there has been a significant fall in the number of firearm suicides in Australia since 1997” and that “[f]irearm homicides also appear to have declined substantially, though with a smaller number of deaths per year, it is more difficult to be sure that this change was related to the NFA.”[98]  At a minimum, they said, “there is some time series evidence against the notion that stricter gun laws have led to increases in total homicides.”[99
  • The authors also concluded that “[t]here is evidence that states with relatively high firearm ownership and therefore high gun buyback rates also had relatively weak regulation prior to 1996.  Then, our estimates need to be interpreted as reflecting a combination of both the removal of firearms and the relative strengthening of legislation and enforcement.  We might expect to see smaller effects in the case of a buyback that was not accompanied by stricter firearm legislation.”[100]

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Recent Discussions and Actions

Discussions about Australia’s gun laws have continued in 2012, including in response to some of the above reports and findings and following various incidents involving firearms.[101]

In June 2012, federal, state, and territory governments reached an agreement on major reforms relating to combating the illicit firearms market.[102]  The agreed measures include

  • a federal offense of aggravated firearms trafficking across national and state borders that would carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment;
  • the national rollout of the Australian Ballistics Identification Network, currently used by the Australian Federal Police and New South Wales Police;
  • the establishment of a National Firearms Register;[103]
  • expansion of the ACC’s firearms tracing capability;
  • an assessment of vulnerabilities around the national air stream, including the international mail environment, to be jointly conducted by the ACC, Australian Federal Police, Customs, and NSW Police;
  • the development of a “coordinated national operational response to crimes involving firearms including targeted enforcement of high risk groups and improving firearms technical skills capabilities.”[104] This will include seeking assistance from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to provide training on the latest developments in firearms and technical advice; and
  • a national campaign to raise community awareness about unlicensed firearms.

The federal Minister for Home Affairs and Minister of Justice also proposed additional reforms for further consideration by the states and territories.[105] Prior to the agreement, in April 2012, the federal government established a Firearm Intelligence Targeting Team inside Customs and Border Protection to “fuse together all available intelligence from law enforcement agencies and target criminal key groups at the border.”[106

On November 28, 2012, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012 was introduced in the federal Parliament.[107]  This bill contains provisions arising from the first agreed measure listed above.[108]

Other activities relating to gun control laws in the states and territories in 2012 included the following:

  • In New South Wales, legislation was enacted in June 2012 to place further restrictions on the sale and purchase of ammunition.[109]
  • 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.[110]
  • In South Australia, the state attorney-general announced a gun amnesty campaign in June 2012, which ran from August 1 to October 31, 2012.[111]  It was reported that 2,783 weapons were surrendered to authorities during the three-month period.[112]
  • 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,[113] generating a strong negative response from the Queensland Police Union.[114]
  • The Queensland government also introduced amending legislation in November 2012 to introduce new mandatory minimum penalties for weapons offenses “in an effort to address the unlawful use of firearms.”[115]  It also announced a gun amnesty for people to either hand in or register their firearms.[116]  The bill was passed in December 2012.[117]

Prepared by Kelly Buchanan
Chief, Foreign, Comparative, and
International Law Division I
February 2013

Appendix: Current State and Territory Firearms Legislation in Australia

New South Wales



Western Australia

South Australia


Northern Territory

Australian Capital Territory


  1. See Robert Milliken, Tasmanian Admits Gun Massacre, The Independent (Nov. 8, 1996), http://www. [Back to Text]
  2. See Gunman’s Life Sentence in Tasmania Killings, NY Times (Nov. 22, 1996), 1996/11/22/world/gunman-s-life-sentence-in-tasmania-killings.html. [Back to Text]
  3. See Jennifer Norberry et al., After Port Arthur—Issues of Gun Control in Australia (Parliamentary Library Current Issues Brief 16, 1995-96), _Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Publications_Archive/CIB/cib9596/96cib16, under the heading “National Uniform Gun Laws?” [Back to Text]
  4. Australian Constitution s 51, [Back to Text]
  5. Id. s 51(i). [Back to Text]
  6. See Rebecca Peters & Charles Watson, A Breakthrough in Gun Control in Australia After the Port Arthur Massacre, 2 Inj. Prev. 253 (1996),  For a recent discussion of the processes and impacts associated with these changes, see John Howard, I Went After Guns. Obama Can Too, NY Times (Jan. 16, 2013), [Back to Text]
  7. See Samantha Bricknell, Firearm Trafficking and Serious and Organised Crime Gangs (Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) Research and Public Policy Series No. 116, June 2012), http://www.aic., under the heading “Legislative Reforms.”  [Back to Text]
  8. See Norberry et al., supra note 3; Duncan Chappell, Prevention of Violent Crime: The Work of the National Committee on Violence, in International Trends in Crime: East Meets West 155 (Sandra McKillop ed., 1992), [Back to Text]
  9. Firearms Reform—Debated Nationally for Years, The Australian Firearms Buyback (archived website), .htm (last visited Dec. 20, 2012). [Back to Text]
  10. See Press Release, Gun Control Australia, Our Strict Gun Laws Have Saved Thousands of Australian Lives (Sept. 7, 2012), [Back to Text]
  11. See Abigail Rath & Gareth Griffith, Firearms Regulation: An Update (NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service Background Paper 5/99, Oct. 1999), nsf/0/121A3D471695BA8ECA256ECF000AF715/$File/FIREARMSPAPERComplete.pdf. [Back to Text]
  12. Bricknell, supra note 7.  [Back to Text]
  13. See generally Firearms Registry, NSW Police Force, (last visited Dec. 21, 2012).  [Back to Text]
  14. See generally Firearms, Victoria Police, 34098 (last visited Dec. 21, 2012).  [Back to Text]
  15. See generally Weapons Licensing, Queensland Police, weaponsLicensing/; Firearms Licence, Queensland Police, Licensing/licenceApplication/licences/firearms/ (both last visited Dec. 21, 2012). [Back to Text]
  16. See generally Firearms, Western Australia Police, PoliceLicensingServices/Firearms/tabid/1802/Default.aspx (last visited Dec. 21, 2012).  [Back to Text]
  17. See generally Firearms & Weapons, South Australia Police, services/firearms_weapons.jsp (last visited Dec. 21, 2012). [Back to Text]
  18. See generally Firearms, Tasmania Police, (last visited Dec. 21, 2012).  [Back to Text]
  19. See generally Firearms Licences Permits Information, Northern Territory Police, http://www.pfes. (last visited Dec. 21, 2012).  [Back to Text]
  20. See generally Firearms, ACT Policing, (last visited Dec. 21, 2012).  [Back to Text]
  21. Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 (Cth), C00724See generally Firearms and Weapons, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, (last visited Dec. 21, 2012). [Back to Text]
  22. Australasian Police Ministers’ Council (APMC), Special Firearms Meeting, Canberra, 10 May 1996: Resolutions, available at, and on the Australian Firearms Buyback archived website at legislation/10may resolut.htm (both last visited Dec. 21, 2012). [Back to Text]
  23. Id. res. 1.  [Back to Text]
  24. Id. res. 4.  The full list of firearms in category C (which are prohibited except for occupational purposes) is as follows: “semi automatic rimfire rifles with a magazine capacity no greater than 10 rounds; semi automatic shotguns with a magazine capacity no greater than 5 rounds; pump action shotguns with a magazine capacity no greater than 5 rounds.”  The category D list (which are prohibited except for official purposes) is: “self-loading centre fire rifles designed or adapted for military purposes or a firearm which substantially duplicates those rifles in design, function or appearance; non-military style self-loading centre fire rifles with either an integral or detachable magazine; self-loading shotguns with either an integral or detachable magazine and pump action shotguns with a capacity of more than 5 rounds; self-loading rim-fire rifles with a magazine capacity greater than 10 rounds.” [Back to Text]
  25. Id. res. 7. [Back to Text]
  26. Id. res. 2. [Back to Text]
  27. Id. res. 9. [Back to Text]
  28. Id. [Back to Text]
  29. Id. res. 3. [Back to Text]
  30. Id. [Back to Text]
  31. Id. res. 4. [Back to Text]
  32. Id. res. 5. [Back to Text]
  33. Id. res. 4. [Back to Text]
  34. Id. [Back to Text]
  35. Id. res. 6. [Back to Text]
  36. Id. res. 8. [Back to Text]
  37. See Successful Implementation of the Laws, The Australian Firearms Buyback (archived website), (last visited Dec. 21, 2012). [Back to Text]
  38. See Bricknell, supra note 7. [Back to Text]
  39. APMC Resolutions, supra note 22, res. 11. [Back to Text]
  40. National Firearms Program Implementation Act 1996 (Cth), C00875. [Back to Text]
  41. Medicare Levy Amendment Act 1996 (Cth), [Back to Text]
  42. National Tally,The Australian Firearms Buyback (archived website), (last visited Dec. 21, 2012); Australian National Audit Office, The Gun Buy-Back Scheme 6 (1997), 1997-98_Audit_Report_25.pdf. 6. [Back to Text]
  43. See Simon Chapman & Philip Alpers, Tight Gun Controls the Most Powerful Weapon, The Sydney Morning Herald (Apr. 27, 2006), [Back to Text]
  44. See Janet Phillips et al., Firearms in Australia: A Guide to Electronic Resources (Australian Parliamentary Library, Aug. 9, 2007), Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/0708/FirearmsAustralia. [Back to Text]
  45. Andrew Leigh & Christine Neill, Do Gun Buybacks Save Lives? Evidence from Panel Data, 12(2) Am. Law & Econ. Rev. 510 (2010), available at [Back to Text]
  46. Id. at 522. [Back to Text]
  47. Bricknell, supra note 7. [Back to Text]
  48. Id. (referring to Crimes Legislation Amendment (People Smuggling, Firearms Trafficking and Other Measures) Act 2002 (Cth) sch 2,; Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) pt 9.4, [Back to Text]
  49. See Killer Sent to Psych Hospital, The Sydney Morning Herald (June 17, 2004), [Back to Text]
  50. See Annabel Crabb et al., PM Flags Tougher Gun Laws, The Age (Oct. 23, 2002),; Phillip Hudson, Government Puts 259 Guns on Banned List, The Age (Nov. 8, 2002), [Back to Text]
  51. APMC Firearms (Handguns) Resolutions November 2002, available at webdata/resources/files/Mediaattachment021128.pdf. [Back to Text]
  52. See Phillips et al., supra note 44. [ Back to Text]
  53. See, e.g., NSW, Parliamentary Debates, 3 July 2003, 2733, Second Reading of Firearms Amendment (Prohibited Pistols) Bill, [Back to Text]
  54. Customs (Prohibited Imports) Amendment Regulations 2002 (No. 4) (Cth), Details/F2002B00339; [Back to Text]
  55. Phillips et al., supra note 44. [Back to Text]
  56. National Handgun Buyback Act 2003,  For background information see Australian Parliamentary Library, National Handgun Buyback Act 2003 (Bills Digest No. 155, May 22, 2003), 7CE96.pdf.  [Back to Text]
  57. Phillips et al., supra note 44. [Back to Text]
  58. See generally National Firearms Monitoring Program, AIC, programs/nmp/0002.html (last visited Dec. 21, 2012). [Back to Text]
  59. See generally Australian Crime: Facts and Figures, AIC, 20series/facts/1-20.html (last visited Dec. 21, 2012). [Back to Text]
  60. See generally Weapons, AIC, (last visited Dec. 21, 2012). [Back to Text]
  61. Press Release, Jason Clare MP, Final Report of the National Investigation into the Illegal Firearms Market (June 29, 2012), 949-final-report-of-the-national-investigation-into-the-illegal-firearms-market.html.  [Back to Text]
  62. AIC, Firearms and Violence in Australia (AIC Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No. 10, Feb. 1988), 7Dti10.pdf. [Back to Text]
  63. Press Release, Jason Clare MP, supra note 61. [Back to Text]
  64. Population Clock, Australian Bureau of Statistics,[email protected]/ 0/1647509ef7e25faaca2568a900154b63?opendocument (last visited Dec. 21, 2012). [Back to Text]
  65. Samantha Bricknell, Criminal Use of Handguns in Australia (AIC Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No. 361, Sept. 2008), .html. [Back to Text]
  66. Illicit Firearms, Australian Crime Commission (ACC), publications/crime-profile-series-fact-sheet/illicit-firearms (last visited Dec. 20, 2012); ACC, Illicit Firearms (Nov. 5, 2012), %20Firearms%20FACT%20SHEET%20021112%20low%20res.pdf. [Back to Text]
  67. Press Release, Jason Clare MP, supra note 61.  See also Bricknell, supra note 7. [Back to Text]
  68. Samantha Bricknell, Firearm Theft in Australia 2008-09 (AIC Monitoring Report No. 16, Oct. 2011), [Back to Text]
  69. Id., under the heading “The nature of firearm theft incidents.” [Back to Text]
  70. Id., under the heading “Compliance with firearm laws.” [Back to Text]
  71. Firearms and Violence in Australia, supra note 62. [Back to Text]
  72. Jenny Mouzos & Catherine Rushforth, Firearms Related Deaths in Australia, 1991–2001 (AIC Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No. 269, Nov. 2003), current%20series/tandi/261-280/tandi269/view%20paper.html. [Back to Text]
  73. Bricknell, supra note 65.  Note that the fiscal year in Australia, which is used for government reporting, budget, and tax purposes, is July 1 to June 30. [Back to Text]
  74. Id.(internal reference omitted). [Back to Text]
  75. Id. [Back to Text]
  76. Id. [Back to Text]
  77. AIC, Australian Crime: Facts & Figures: 2011 at ch 2 (Mar. 2012), publications/current%20series/facts/1-20/2011.html. [Back to Text]
  78. Bricknell, supra note 7, under the heading “Characteristics and dynamics of firearms trafficking.” [Back to Text]
  79. Australia – Gun Facts, Figures and the Law,, region/australia (last visited Dec. 21, 2012). [Back to Text]
  80. Philip Alpers & Marcus Wilson, Australian Firearm Amnesty, Buyback and Destruction Totals: Official Tallies and Media-reported Numbers, 1987–2012 (Sydney School of Public Health, The University of Sydney, Jan. 10, 2013),; Press Release, The University of Sydney, Australian Shooters Restock Arsenal to pre-Port Arthur Numbers (Jan. 14, 2013), [Back to Text]
  81. Nick Ralston, Australia Reloads as Gun Amnesties Fail to Cut Arms, The Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 14, 2013), also AAP, Aussies Own as Many Guns as Before 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, The Australian (Jan. 14, 2013), [Back to Text]
  82. Lisa Davies, Illegal Guns are Not a Problem, Says Study Author – But Police Disagree, The Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 15, 2013), [Back to Text]
  83. Philip Alpers, The Big Melt: How One Democracy Changed After Scrapping a Third of its Firearms (Conference Paper for the Summit on Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Jan. 15, 2013), [Back to Text]
  84. J. Ozanne-Smith et al., Firearm Related Deaths: The Impact of Regulatory Reform, 10(5) Inj. Prev. 280 (2004), [Back to Text]
  85. S. Chapman et al., Australia’s 1996 Gun Law reforms: Faster Falls in Firearm Deaths, Firearm Suicides, and a Decade Without Mass Shootings, 12(6) Inj. Prev. 365 (2006), content/12/6/365.full; original article also available at [Back to Text]
  86. Jeanine Baker & Samara McPhedran, Gun Laws and Sudden Death: Did the Australian Firearms Legislation of 1996 Make a Difference?, Br. J. Criminol. (2006), available at GunLawsSudden%20DeathBJC.pdf. [Back to Text]
  87. Christine Neill & Andrew Leigh, Weak Tests and Strong Conclusions: A Re-Analysis of Gun Deaths and the Australian Firearms Buyback 12 (Australian National University Centre for Economic Policy Discussion Paper No. 555, June 2007), [Back to Text]
  88. Wang-Sheng Lee & Sandy Suardi, The Australian Firearms Buyback and Its Effect on Gun Deaths, at 6 (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research Working Paper No. 17/08, Aug. 2008),  This was the same data used in the Neill and Leigh study of 2007. [Back to Text]
  89. Id. at 3. [Back to Text]
  90. Id. at 23. [Back to Text]
  91. Id. at 23–24. [Back to Text]
  92. Leigh & Neill, supra note 45, at 510–11 (2010).  Full results of aspects of this study are also contained in Andrew Leigh & Christine Neill, Do Gun Buybacks Save Lives? Evidence from Panel Data (IZA [Institute for Study of Labor] Discussion Paper No. 4995, June 2010),  [Back to Text]
  93. Leigh & Neill, supra note 45, at 524. [Back to Text]
  94. Id. at 518. [Back to Text]
  95. Id. at 532–33. [Back to Text]
  96. Id. at 535.  [Back to Text]
  97. Id. at 538. [Back to Text]
  98. Id. at 551. [Back to Text]
  99. Id. [Back to Text]
  100. Id. at 544. [Back to Text]
  101. See, e.g., Samantha Lee, Why Do We Need Any More Semi-Automatic Pistols in Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald (Apr. 18, 2012), [Back to Text]
  102. Press Release, Hon. Jason Clare MP, Major Agreement to Tackle the Illegal Firearms Market (June 29, 2012),  The agreement particularly responds to the recommendations contained in the AIC report on firearms trafficking and serious and organized crime.  Bricknell, supra note 7. [Back to Text]
  103. See Fran Milloy, New Registry to Keep Track of ‘Lost’ Guns, The Sydney Morning Herald (July 4, 2012), The 1996 agreement to establish a “nationwide firearms registration system” led to the implementation of the National Firearms and Licensing Registration System.  This system is currently run by CrimTrac, an entity established in 2000 to share information between the nine policing agencies.  However, the current system involves “more than 30 different databases dealing with various aspects of firearms registration around the nation.”  Id.  The new measures agreed in 2012 to address firearms trafficking include reducing the number of databases to three: an “Interpol-compliant National Firearms Identification Database (NFID), a ‘cradle-to-the-grave’ new National Firearms Registry and a national ballistic identification network capable of linking fired cartridge cases from a crime scene to the firearm used.”  Id.  The new system will apparently be based on the Firearms Reference Table developed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which has also been adopted by Interpol. [Back to Text]
  104. Press Release, Hon. Jason Clare MP, supra note 102. [Back to Text]
  105. Id. [Back to Text]
  106. Id.  See also Press Release, Hon. Jason Clare MP, Update on National Illicit Firearms Assessment and Establishment of Firearms Intelligence and Targeting Team (Apr. 12, 2012),; AAP, Government Launches New Gun Intelligence Unit, The Australian (Apr. 12, 2012), au/news/breaking-news/government-launches-new-gun-intelligence-unit/story-fn3dxity-1226325158137. [Back to Text]
  107. Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012, Parliament of Australia, also Press Release, Hon. Jason Clare MP, New Laws to Fight Organised Crime (Nov. 28, 2012), [Back to Text]
  108. Speech, Hon. Jason Clare MP, Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012 Second Reading Speech, Nov. 28, 2012, Fourth%20Quarter/28November-2012-CrimesLegislationAmendment%28OrganisedCrimeandOtherMeasures% 29Bill2012SecondReadingSpeech.aspx. [Back to Text]
  109. Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012, Parliament of New South Wales, (last visited Dec. 21, 2012). [Back to Text]
  110. AAP, NSW Govt to Tighten Gun Control, Herald Sun (Dec. 20, 2012), news/breaking-news/nsw-gun-body-rejected-law-changes-report/story-e6frf7kf-1226540783897. [Back to Text]
  111. Gun Amnesty Campaign 2012, South Australia Attorney-General’s Department, http://www. (last visited Dec. 21, 2012). [Back to Text]
  112. Record Haul from SA Gun Amnesty, ABC News (Nov. 1, 2012), [Back to Text]
  113. Press Release, Hon. Jack Dempsey, Panel Created to Cut Weapons Red Tape (Aug. 27, 2012), [Back to Text]
  114. Rosanne Barrett, Queensland Gun Lobby Takes Aim at Red-Tape Hold-Up, The Australian (Aug. 28, 2012), -e6frgczx-1226459405120; Daniel Hurst, ‘More People Will Die’: Police Union Berates Gun Law Overhaul, Brisbane Times (Aug. 27, 2012), [Back to Text]
  115. Weapons and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2012, Queensland Police, (last visited Dec. 21, 2012).[Back to Text]
  116. See AAP, Qld Government to Call Three-Month Gun Amnesty, Courier Mail (Nov. 1, 2012), [Back to Text]
  117. Bills This Parliament, Queensland Parliament, bills-and-legislation/current-bills-register (last visited Dec. 21, 2012). [Back to Text]

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020