NSW firearms count tops the million mark

Shock and horror! There are more than one million firearms registered in NSW, the most since the buyback which followed the 1996 Port Arthur tragedy. So screams the headline of a report in the Sydney Morning Herald prompted by the release of the Gun Control Australia (GCA) report card on NSW, released in March.

GCA figures are based on data released by NSW Police following access to information requests, a lot of which is both unexceptional and actually quite useful. As of February 1, 2019 there were 1,007,786 firearms registered in NSW, more than 880,000 of them owned by individual licence holders and an increase of 9.5 per cent on December 2016. Most are hunting rifles and shotguns and there are 40,930 registered handguns which doesn’t seem that many.

At February 1 there were 236,588 individual licensees  in NSW, each holding an average of four firearms. GCA cited the large number of guns owned by some individuals - one with 305, another in genteel Mosman with 285 - and in excess of 100 across the state with more than 70 each. There are 635 approved shooting clubs, 71 of them branches of SSAA (NSW).

GCA has a 14-point plan on what to do with all these guns, starting with limiting each licence holder to two. Yes, really. That would necessitate the state government conducting a buyback of some half a million guns, unlikely any time soon. GCA claims NSW law is in breach of the 1996 National Firearms Agreement (NFA) in 11 areas, but then demands the end to minor shooting permits (available to those aged 12-18) which were clearly approved in the NFA.

GCA doesn’t draw much distinction between illegal conduct and guns legally owned by licensed shooters. For example, it says incidents of shooting into premises increased significantly from 51 and 54 in previous years to 69 in the year to June 2018. It says figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research show there were 23 murders in domestic violence situations in the five years to 2018 and 178 incidents of stalking, intimidation and harassment with a firearm. How many, if any, of these incidents involved licensed shooters with registered guns GCA doesn’t say, but clearly implies all these guns must mean more crime.

That’s not supported by statistics from the Australian Institute of Criminology which indicate a declining homicide rate, with knives killing far more people than guns and, where guns are used, it’s overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) by criminals with unregistered firearms.

The GCA report card warrants some comment. In simple terms NSW has more guns because it has more people, with a population of 7.3 million at June 2018 compared with 5.6 million in Victoria. In 1996, anti-gun groups such as GCA were fully supportive of changes to licensing arrangements which imposed more rigorous conditions, including establishing genuine reasons and requiring membership of certain organisations.

GCA may have hoped these changes would deter people from shooting but they didn’t and every single licensed shooter met those rigorous requirements, as well as those requiring proper storage and transport. GCA’s bleating may have had some justification if firearm crime rates were soaring but they’re not - far from it.

To its credit, the Sydney Morning Herald spoke to target shooter Susie Smith who said what these  statistics indicated was the sport she loved was growing. The story prompted a significant number of comments, some anti-gun but a sizeable number supportive of responsible gun ownership.

“Only one million? We’re not doing our job properly,” said one commentator, “it should be more than 2.5 million. Time for an Australia-wide campaign to get your unlicensed mates into the shooting sports and help them obtain their gun licences. Also to buy two more guns each in 2019 - come on guys, get cracking.”

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