How many guns is too many guns?
It’s not just an academic question.
In NSW, the extent of gun ownership tells us something about how the gun laws are working – and where they are failing us.
Let’s get this straight. Australia has for the most part the kind of gun laws that are the envy of the rest of the world. The law classifies weapons into categories so that more dangerous weapons are prohibited from use or restricted to certain kinds of license, for the most part people handling guns will have a firearms license, and they need to prove a legitimate reason to own a gun to purchase one.
It’s not perfect, of course – the notorious Part 6B of the firearms act for instance allows a person without a license to simply sign a form that they have no mental health issues, and then they can access weapons at a range. This sadly has already resulted in one death in NSW.
The gun laws in NSW and around Australia trace their origin to the National Firearms Agreement, implemented by John Howard at substantial personal political cost in 1996. The NFA was a comprehensive response to the Port Arthur massacre. It has made communities safer, and substantially reduced the number of weapons in circulation. It also delivered a prohibition on automatic and semi-automatic weapons.
For the first time ever, the NFA also made it a universal requirement across Australia for people to establish they had a ‘genuine reason” for having a firearms licence and a “good reason” to acquire a firearm. The NSW permit to acquire a firearm requires a person seeking to acquire a gun to state that:
“I confirm that the good reason for acquiring this firearm is directly related to the reason for the issue of my firearms licence.”
This reason can include a need to control pests on a rural property, membership of a hunting club or shooting range.
This reflects the balance that gun laws need to strike – between limiting the number of dangerous weapons in circulation, and the legitimate uses by the community of some weapons for pest control and target shooting.
However this provision has proven to be a serious loophole that is being exploited by some gun owners so that they can accumulate dozens and dozens, and in some cases hundreds, of guns. Gun owners can endlessly recycle the same “good reason” to get their first gun and then their second gun, their tenth gun and their 300th gun. This would seem to go substantially against the intention of this requirement.
Results of information requests from the NSW police have shown the extent of gun ownership across NSW, and the results show the exploitation of this loophole is alive and well.
The data shows 850,634 registered firearms in NSW. There are over 100 postcodes that have more than 2,400 guns and there are 9 postcodes that contain more than 10,000 guns. It also shows the size of the largest 100 private arsenals owned by any one person in NSW as at December 2015.
This specifically excluded guns owned by firearm dealers and registered collectors. Remarkably, this shows over 100 people with between 71 and 322 guns each.
We think this is too many guns. This is why we’ve made a website to share this information, so people can be informed how many guns are in their local area: toomanyguns长沙楼凤,
These are people using their membership of a hunting club, or shooting range as a reason to buy one gun, then another, all the way up to tens and hundreds. The community expects that our firearm laws will put reasonable limits on the number of guns people can own to prevent the build-up of private arsenals in the community. It is currently failing to do this.
In the interests of community safety, it is time this loophole in the firearms laws was closed so that once any gun owner owned 5 guns they have to establish a separate and extraordinary reason for owning each additional gun.
Firearms owners on the whole comply with the law, but that doesn’t mean the law shouldn’t be changed where it’s failing to fulfil society’s expectations. Properly administered this reform would significantly reduce the number of firearms in our community and end the disturbing trend towards people collecting their own private arsenals.
David Shoebridge is a Greens member of the New South Wales Legislative Council.