Australia Firearms-Control Legislation and Policy
Library of Congress
Submitted by Andrew S. McGregor
As a response to the April 28, 1996 Port Arthur massacre the Australian government passed sweeping gun control legislation that included a massive “gun buyback” program. President Obama has recently invoked the Port Arthur massacre and Scotland’s 1996 Dunblane elementary school massacre in his calls for heightened gun control measures. A multitude of unanswered questions surround both of these mass shootings.-JFT
The resolutions agreed to at the Australasian Police Ministers’ Council [APMC] meeting on May 10, 1996, provided for the establishment of a uniform approach to firearms regulation that would include
*a federal ban on the importation of “all semi-automatic self-loading and pump action longarms, and all parts, including magazines, for such firearms, included in Licence Category D, and control of the importation of those firearms included in Licence Category C.” The sale, resale, transfer, ownership, manufacture, and use of such firearms would also be banned by the states and territories, other than in exceptional circumstances (relating to military or law enforcement purposes and occupational categories, depending on the category of the firearm);
*standard categories of firearms, including the two largely prohibited categories (C and D), which include certain semiautomatic and self-loading rifles and shotguns, and a restricted category for handguns (category H);
*a requirement for a separate permit for the acquisition of every firearm, with a twenty-eight-day waiting period applying to the issuing of such permits, and the establishment of a nationwide firearms registration system;
*a uniform requirement for all firearms sales to be conducted only by or through licensed firearms dealers, and certain minimum principles that would underpin rules relating to the recording of firearms transactions by dealers and right of inspection by police;
*restrictions on the quantity of ammunition that may be purchased in a given period and a requirement that dealers only sell ammunition for firearms for which the purchaser is licensed;
*ensuring that “personal protection” would not be regarded as a “genuine reason” for owning, possessing, or using a firearm under the laws of the states and territories;
*standardized classifications to define a “genuine reason” that an applicant must show for owning, possessing, or using a firearm, including reasons relating to sport shooting, recreational shooting/hunting, collecting, and occupational requirements (additional requirements of showing a genuine need for the particular type of firearm and securing related approvals would be added for firearms in categories B, C, D, and H);
*in addition to the demonstration of a “genuine reason,” other basic requirements would apply for the issuing of firearms licenses, specifically that the applicant must be aged eighteen years or over, be a “fit and proper person,” be able to prove his or her identity, and undertake adequate safety training (safety training courses would be subject to accreditation and be “comprehensive and standardised across Australia for all licence categories”);
*firearms licenses would be required to bear a photograph of the licensee, be endorsed with a category of firearm, include the holder’s address, be issued after a waiting period of not less than twenty-eight days, be issued for a period of no more than five years, and contain a reminder of safe storage responsibilities;
*licenses would only be issued subject to undertakings to comply with storage requirements and following an inspection by licensing authorities of the licensee’s storage facilities;
*minimum standards for the refusal or cancellation of licenses, including criminal convictions for violent offenses in the past five years, unsafe storage of firearms, failure to notify of a change of address, and “reliable evidence of a mental or physical condition which would render the applicant unsuitable for owning, possessing or using a firearm”; and
*the establishment of uniform standards for the security and storage of firearms, including a requirement that ammunition be stored in locked containers separate from any firearms. The minimum standards for category C, D, and H firearms would include “storage in a locked, steel safe with a thickness to ensure it is not easily penetrable, bolted to the structure of a building.”
The above resolutions were implemented through the passage of new or amending legislation and associated regulations by the states and territories. A review of the relevant legislation by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) in 2008 found general compliance with the 1996 National Firearms Agreement (and the 2002 agreements regarding handguns and firearms trafficking discussed below) across the states and territories but also determined that there remained some inconsistencies between the jurisdictions. Some amendments to the relevant laws were subsequently made in response to the AIC review.
In addition to requiring law changes to implement the above resolutions, the agreement provided for the establishment of a twelve-month national amnesty and compensation program, to be accompanied by a public education campaign, after which the jurisdictions would apply “severe penalties” for breaches of the firearms control laws. This resolution was implemented through a national firearms buyback program, which saw the federal Parliament enacting the National Firearms Program Implementation Act 1996 (Cth). The Medicare Levy Amendment Act 1996 (Cth) was also enacted in relation to providing funding for the compensation to be paid to gun owners who handed in weapons that fell within the prohibited categories.
The buyback program started in most states on October 1, 1996, and ended on September 30, 1997. More than 640,000 prohibited firearms were surrendered nationwide as part of the buyback program. In addition, it was reported that about 60,000 nonprohibited firearms were voluntarily surrendered without compensation. According to a telephone poll conducted in 1999 on behalf of the federal government by Gun Control Australia, there were about 3.25 million guns in Australia prior to the 1996–1997 buyback program. One study on the impact of the buyback states that “[i]n terms of the absolute numbers of guns destroyed, Australia’s gun buyback ranks as the largest destruction of civilian firearms in any country over the period 1991–2006.” The buyback was reported to have resulted in the withdrawal of one-fifth of the stock of civilian firearms in the country and substantially reduced the number of households possessing a firearm.