Right: a photograph that became notorious throughout the world, showing then-Prime Minister John Howard speaking to a hostile crowd of gun owners and supporters. The outline of a bulletproof vest can be clearly seen under Mr Howard's coat. '
Arguments suggesting Australia's gun control laws have not been a success
1. The number of guns owned in Australia has risen above the levels at the time of the Port Arthur massacre
It has been claimed that the number of guns now in circulation within Australia is greater than that after the gun buyback which followed the Port Arthur massacre.
In an ABC news report published on November 12, 2011, it was noted, 'In the 15 years since Martin Bryant killed 35 people at the popular Tasmanian tourist site, the flow of firearms into Australia has eclipsed the amount recovered in the government funded buy-back scheme.'
The same report noted that in the 2010-11 financial year Australians imported more than 85,000 firearms, including 44,000 rifles, 12,000 shotguns and nearly 20,000 handguns and that in the preceding 16 months 47,000 new guns have been registered in Queensland alone.
Recent research conducted by the University of Sydney and released in January, 2013, has confirmed that gun ownership in Australia has again consolidated at pre buyback levels.
While there was an initial spike in gun purchases in Australia when owners of now-banned multi-shot rifles and shotguns replaced their weapons with single-fire guns in the four years after Port Arthur, gun imports fell and remained stagnant. The lowest number of imports in a financial year - just under 18,000 - was recorded in 1998-99.
The recent University of Sydney research shows that the trade has now recovered, with a steady increase in the 10 years since, peaking at 66,461 guns imported into Australia in 2009/10, the highest number in 13 years.
Adjunct Associate Professor Philip Alpers, from the University's School of Public Health, has stated, 'Since 1988, when the first of several mass shootings took place, 38 state and federal gun amnesties ran for well over 3000 weeks.
If we include all the gun owners who sent their weapons to the smelter without asking for money, the real total is a million firearms destroyed, or a third of the national private arsenal. That's many more than we usually talk about.'
Commenting on the replenishment of Australian gun stocks, Professor Alpers has noted, 'By mid-2012, following a steady 10-year upward trend in gun buying, Australians had restocked the national stockpile of private guns to pre-Port Arthur levels. They did this by importing 1,055,082 firearms, an average of 43,961 each year since destruction programs began.'
2. Popular acceptance of gun ownership and use is on the rise in Australia
It has been claimed that in the years since the Port Arthur massacre popular attitudes toward gun ownership have shifted. Gun ownership and gun club membership are both said to be increasing.
On November 13, 2011, an ABC Radio National Background Briefing noted 'Last year this gun club at Ipswich, west of Brisbane, had a ten per cent jump in membership. Across the country, young men ... are joining gun clubs to go hunting.'
One young Queensland gun club member was reported saying, 'Traditionally, it was a lot older guys, but I think maybe with the influence of video games and whatnot, guns are getting a bit more attention, hopefully a bit more positive. You know, there are a lot of misconceptions of the sport and it is a good fun, safe sport. And, yeah, it's very relaxing and, yeah, very, very fun.'
It has also been noted that gun lobbies are beginning to exert greater political influence. In 2011, the Queensland branch of the Sporting Shooters' Association of Australia donated $100,000 to help Bob Katter set up Katter's Australian Party to contest the next Queensland and federal elections. Described by Bob Katter as 'the fun party', Katter's Australian Party wants to make it easier for people, especially boys, to go camping, fishing and shooting.'
Tim Bannister, a spokesperson for the Sporting Shooters' Association of Australia has stated, 'We are quite happy that Mr Katter has brought recreational shooting and hunting up a bit. He's put it on the agenda. So, we can now actually say, 'okay,' to some of those politicians that haven't made any comment, 'where do you stand? We'd like to tell our members where you stand.' You know, 134,000 people would guarantee you there's some people that live in every single member's electorate. Now, they need to have a bit of a think about that.'
New legislation has recently been introduced in New South Wales seeks to allow shooters into national parks in that state.
Anti-gun lobbyist, Rebecca Peters has stated that such legislation seeks to normalise a gun culture in Australia. Ms Peters has argued, 'One reason why they would want to expand their access to hunting in more areas is to build public acceptance of hunting, to be able to recruit more people and to normalise it, basically, as part of society. To try to establish that it's normal to have guns and it's normal to kill other living creatures in New South Wales...'
3. Stricter gun laws have not made Australians appreciably safer
Critics of Australia's strict gun laws have claimed that this legislation has not made Australia a safer place in which to live. According to the most commonly put argument, violence in any community is not primarily a matter of the weapons available. If, it is argued, guns become less accessible, knives or other types of weapon will be used instead.
On January 19, 2011, The Daily Caller published an opinion piece by Ben-Peter Terpstra titled 'America, don't repeat Australia's gun-control mistake'. In this piece Terpstra used suicide data to argue that if one weapon is removed another will be employed. Terpstra claimed, 'Raw data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reveals that while suicide by firearms is continuing to decrease from a high in the 1980s, suicide by hanging steadily increased throughout the 1990s and increased for three consecutive years after the 1996 buy-back.'
On December 26, 2012, The Wall Street Journal published a comment by Joyce Lee Malcolm, a professor of law at George Mason University Law School and the author of several books including 'Guns and Violence: The English Experience.' The piece is titled 'Two Cautionary Tales of Gun Control'.
In the comment Professor Malcolm uses British and Australian data to argue that stricter gun controls have not resulted in safer communities. She has stated, 'In 2008, the Australian Institute of Criminology reported a decrease of 9% in homicides and a one-third decrease in armed robbery since the 1990s, but an increase of over 40% in assaults and 20% in sexual assaults.'
Professor Malcolm concludes, 'Strict gun laws in Great Britain and Australia haven't made their people noticeably safer, nor have they prevented massacres. The two major countries held up as models for the U.S. don't provide much evidence that strict gun laws will solve our problems.'
4. Data regarding gun-ownership in Australia is inconclusive and trends are difficult to substantiate
After the Port Arthur massacre, tightened gun laws made it mandatory to register every gun and a streamlined national gun registration and licensing system was promised.
Today critics claim that the national registration system is ineffective. In a report posted on ABC News on November 12, 2011, it was claimed, 'No federal agencies or crime researchers were able to tell the ABC exactly how many registered guns or licensed shooters are in the country, and by how much gun numbers and gun owners were increasing.'
For the past 15 years, gun homicide rates have apparently been falling, but researchers fear because gun data is poorly kept and rarely shared, new crime trends involving guns are being missed.
Don Weatherburn, the director of the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, has claimed that there needs to be a uniform system for recording crime statistics.
Mr Weatherburn has argued, 'It's not just national gun statistics. National crime statistics are in a dismal state and they really need significant attention.
We have some states counting things differently to other states; they're often non-comparable and for a while there the Australian Bureau of Statistics even made it impossible to compare one state's crimes with another states crimes.'
Mr Weatherburn concluded, 'And that's important because it's the statistical information that tells the public what's going on and also helps organisations like ours to analyse the trends and identify the patterns that can help police. So it's true to say that national crime statistics are badly in need of repair and reform.'
5. Gun laws leave weapons unregulated and in the hands of criminals
It has been claimed that all gun laws achieve is that weapons are taken out of the hands of law-abiding citizens and left in the possession of criminals and those who are prepared to own illegal guns without having them registered.
Critics of Australia's gun laws maintain that between July 1 1997 and 30 June 1999 nine in ten offenders in firearm-related homicides were unlicensed firearm owners.
The Sporting Shooters' Association of Australia (SSAA) has noted that during this two year period 'Of the 117 homicide offenders who used firearms to commit homicide, only 9.4% homicide offenders were licensed firearms owners with registered firearms. In other words licensed firearm owners were not responsible for the majority of firearm-related homicides. These findings are consistent with international research.'
In April, 2005, the SSAA also reported that in 2002-2003 the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) had recorded that over 85% of firearms used to commit murder were unregistered. In August, 2010, the SSAA further noted that in 2006-2007 the AIC had recorded that 93 per cent of firearms involved in homicides had never been registered and were used by unlicensed individuals.
Opponents of stricter gun controls argue that all such laws achieve is that gun ownership becomes concentrated in the hands of criminals and gang-related violence by armed perpetrators is likely to increase.
On January 19, 2011, The Daily Caller published an opinion piece by Ben-Peter Terpstra titled 'America, don't repeat Australia's gun-control mistake'. In this piece Terpstra claimed 'The passage of gun control laws fuelled our illegal arms market, and gun-hungry gangs multiplied. The significance: many gangland deaths/wars involved bullets. The tribal fights exploded after the Port Arthur massacre-inspired gun laws, against mainstream media predictions.'
Terpstra concluded, 'When one punishes law-abiding citizens for the sins of criminals, good intentions will backfire. By criminalizing productive citizens, we have made life easier for criminals, and wasted precious police resources on policing farmers.'