The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday, October 28, 1998
Crime involving the use of guns is on the rise despite tougher laws – but gun control lobbyists maintain Australia is becoming a safer place.
The number of robberies with guns jumped 39 per cent in 1997 to 2,183, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, while assaults involving guns rose 28 per cent to 806 and murders by 19 per cent to 75.
Almost half of firearm killings in the seven years to 1997 involved weapons which are now prohibited or restricted following the slaughter of 35 people at Port Arthur in 1996, according to Australian Institute of Criminology research.
But gun groups say the new controls have created a thriving black market.
“Before registration, there was no illegal market for long arms and semi-automatics,” the president of the Firearm Owners’ Association of Australia, Mr Ron Owen, said. “Now the black market of pistols has increased tenfold, and both criminals and non-criminals seek them. And the black market of machine-guns has at least tripled.” However, the national spokesman for the Coalition for Gun Control, Mr Roland Brown, described the $500 million gun buy-back scheme which has taken 640,000 weapons out of circulation as an “unqualified success”. “Australia is a safer place,” he said.
But the 1997 statistics were “next to useless” because the new national laws were not in force completely until July this year.
“Figures for 2000 or 2001 will be more useful,” he said.
“It can take five or 10 years for these laws to become fully effective and for the results to show. A good performance indicator is that there has been a change in the composition of arsenals of guns.
“No longer are most people able to own semi-automatics or pump action shotguns.
“Rapid-fire weapons are just about finished in Australia – and this has reduced the prospect of mass killings significantly.”
The gun control lobby also says crime statistics can be misleading. Latest research shows that a third of all firearm murders involve intimate partners and a fifth is followed by the suicide of the offender.