If you were to believe social media, Australia is a crime-free paradise where no-one owns one of those evil, scary guns, and mass shootings never, ever happen. All thanks to John Howard’s gun laws.

The only problem is – that’s all a load of steaming horse-puckey.

While Australia is indeed a relatively low-crime nation, that has little to do with the Howard gun laws. Australia’s murder rate for the past century has always been relatively low and, like most Western nations, has fairly steadily declined since a slight rise in the 1970s. Despite a blip shortly after the Howard laws, Australia’s homicide rate has fallen at the same rate since well before the gun laws.

Howard’s gun laws made no difference to firearm homicide.

Meanwhile, the number of guns has risen.

The number of guns in NSW has almost doubled since 2001, despite John Howard’s tough Port Arthur gun laws enacted five years earlier.

Amid perceptions that the gun laws had led to fewer guns in Australia, The Australian can reveal that in NSW there were 1,024,498 registered firearms at the end of June, compared with 619,643 in 2001, when NSW police began keeping records. At the end of 2018-19, NSW had 242,687 licensed firearm owners, compared with about 180,000 licence holders in 2001.

The population of NSW has ­increased from 6.65 million to eight million in that period, ­meaning the rate of growth in guns is ­higher.

There was one gun for every ten people in NSW in 2001. Today, that figure is one in seven. The ratio of licensed owners has declined very slightly. In other words, owners are stocking more firearms than before.

NSW Police Minister David Elliott said: “I have always been concerned about the number of firearms in NSW and have established clear laws for licensing.

“In August, I announced changes to the NSW Firearms Registry. These changes were about ensuring firearms don’t fall into dangerous hands while making sure those who follow the rules receive the best available customer service possible.

Firearms charges in NSW have nearly doubled since 2005. There has been a 42% increase in charges for unauthorised pistol possession. In recent years, Sydney has seen a spate of shootings. That whole “don’t fall into dangerous hands” doesn’t seem to be working so well.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party leader Robert Borsak rejected any suggestion on Monday that concessions the Shooters party had won from successive governments had led to the increase in firearm ownership, saying the party had received “no concessions” […] Many farmers needed more than one gun, Mr Borsak said. “They need a shotgun to do this, a .22 to do that.”

Mr Borsak said he believed the growth in shooters since Port Arthur was similar all over Australia, even in WA, which had the “most restrictive laws in the country”.


But what about the mass shootings, eh?

By the commonly accepted definition of “mass shooting”, Australia has in fact seen nine mass shootings since Port Arthur. Even by a more restrictive definition, the number is four.

These tragedies are still very rare, of course, but they always were – and it puts the lie to the endlessly-repeated claim that Australia has had no mass shootings since Port Arthur. The latest data from NSW also put the lie to claims that tough gun laws “get rid of guns”.


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Lushington D. Brady

Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. I grew up in a generational-Labor-voting family. I kept the faith long after the political left had abandoned it. In last decade or...