A Beginners Guide to Australian Gun Laws

1. The matter of gun laws was not included in the Australian Constitution when it became operative at the start of the 20th Century, hence gun laws remain within the jurisdiction of the six states (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania) and the two territories (Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory). The Commonwealth (Australian) government does not have the power to make gun laws but it can control imports. Since 1991 ex-military rifles such as Kalashnikov types, and military style lookalikes such as the Ruger Mini 14 cannot be imported.

2. Major gun massacres occurred in Victoria and NSW in 1987, in NSW 1991 and in Tasmania in 1996. 150 people died in multiple death shootings alone in the decade starting January 1987. Stricter gun laws have only been made in Australia after a major gun massacre. Some states did improve their gun laws in the late 1980′s up to the mid-1990′s, and to a degree such improvements filtered slowly to all jurisdictions. The gun death rate was noticeably reduced by 1995.

3. The death of 35 people and serious injuries to almost 20 others at Port Arthur on 28 April 1996 prompted the Australian government to urge a meeting of the eight state and territory police ministers to introduce a new and stricter range of gun controls. Three major changes were introduced.

(a) Gun registration was introduced to all eight jurisdictions
(b) Attempts were made to have uniform gun laws throughout Australia
(c) A new standardised gun licensing scheme was put into practice.

This new scheme allowed non-self-loading guns to be readily available but placed restrictions on high capacity self-loading rimfire rifles,
self-loading centrefire rifles and shotguns and pump-action shotguns. These were the types of guns mainly used in Australian gun massacres. The basis for these changes had been laid in 1990 when the National Committee on Violence (NCV) made about 20 recommendations for improved gun controls. The NCV itself was formed as a result of the six gun massacres in 1987.

There were about four million guns in Australia. One million were no longer in the legal category so a gun buy-back scheme was introduced to purchase these. The estimated average price was $500 per gun. Hence 500 million dollars was set aside. Only 640,000 guns were offered for purchase, hence $320 million was used for this purpose. About another 40 million dollars was used for administration and assistance to gun traders. Since the 500 million dollars had come from a medical levy the balance was distributed to medical research and welfare. It should be noted that the total amount spent on purchasing guns was only about 200 million dollars US. It should also be noted that up to 40% of Australian gun owners did not obey the law, making the term ‘law abiding shooters’ look somewhat ridiculous.

4. Several exemptions to the gun licensing schedule were made by most jurisdictions. Members of certain shotgun target shooting clubs were permitted to use self-loading shotguns and many rural property owners and professional shooters were permitted to use self- loading rifles and shotguns.

5. In Australia, handguns have only been available to bona-fide members of approved pistol clubs and to gun collectors. None of the changes to gun laws made in recent decades have affected the availability of handguns. Non-self-loading long-guns are readily available to Australians who are at least 18 years of age, have no police record and who pass a simple shooters licence test. As Australian gun laws have become stricter in the 1990′s gun deaths have lowered; never-the-less, several serious weaknesses remain within the Australian gun law system. Too many Australians still die from gun wounds.

Interested readers should have a look at ourĀ [books] on Australian gun laws.