How easy is it to get a gun in Australia?

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The Sydney siege has highlighted questions about gun laws in Australia: How easy is it to buy a gun? Where can they be shot? And, most importantly, how many unregistered guns are there in circulation?

The debate around gun laws spiked this week in the wake of the fatal Sydney siege, as questions were raised over how gunman Man Haron Monis - who was on bail at the time - had access to a gun.

How easy is it to get a firearm in Australia?

A spokeswoman for the Australian Institute of Criminology told SBS a person looking to own a firearm in this country needs both a licence and a permit. To obtain a licence, they must be:

  • 18 years or over
  • Judged as a fit and proper person
  • Have undergone a firearms safety training course and;
  • Have provided documentation about the storage arrangements in which they will secure the firearm.

Licences will not be granted to people:

  • Under the age of 18
  • Who have been convicted in the previous 10 years in the current or another state/territory of an offence prescribed by the regulations
  • Is subject to an apprehended violence order or at any time in the previous 10 years has been subject to an order (unless the order was revoked), or;
  • Is subject to a Good Behaviour Bond to an offence prescribed by the regulations

"In NSW and South Australia, persons under firearm prohibition orders are also ineligible for obtaining a new or renewing a firearms licence," the spokeswoman said.

"Suspensions and revocations of licences occur when subject to an AVO or other prescribed reason."

Who is responsible for issuing licences in NSW?

The Firearms Registry, part of the NSW Police Force, is responsible with issuing permits and licences for firearms.

Its website also provides information about how to purchase, safely handle, store and dispose of firearms, as well as the requirements attached to owning a gun.

What do you need to get a license in NSW?

To get a licence, a person must:

  • Prove a genuine reason to have a firearms licence
  • Fill out an application form, and;
  • Provide supporting documents such as proof of a safety training course or club membership.

A complete guide to this process is available on the Firearms Registry website.

How do you buy a firearm in NSW?

Before purchasing a firearm, people need to complete a Permit to Acquire application, which carries a $30 fee.

There is a 28-day mandatory waiting period for a first-time application. If the Permit to Acquire is granted, it is valid for 90 days.

A gun can be purchased from a licensed firearms dealer and a valid Permit to Acquire must be presented to complete the sale. Further, the FR website states:

"If you are purchasing privately from another firearms licence holder, they will need to attend the firearms dealer to authorise disposal of the firearm to you."

How many people own guns in Australia?

According to the AIC, there are approximately 2.75 million registered firearms in Australia and approximately 730,000 licensed owners.

On the llicit market, The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) estimates there are approximately 250,000 longarms - such as rifles and shotguns - in circulation and 10,000 illegal handguns.

There is also the grey market - which the AIC spokeswoman described as “longarms that should have been registered or surrendered in the firearm buybacks that accompanied the National Firearms Agreement 1996 but were not” – the size of which is unknown.

"Grey market firearms are not held, used or conveyed for criminal purposes but can end up in the illicit market," she said.​

How many guns are stolen each year in Australia ?

The AIC conducted the National Firearm Theft Monitoring Program from 2004–05 to 2008–09. 

The Spokeswoman said in those periods, the average number of firearms reported stolen was 1,545. New South Wales tops the list of states with the highest rates of theft, as shown in this table below:

Trend in stolen firearms 1994–2000 to 2008–09 (number stolen per year)

 

1994–2000a

2004–05

2005–06

2006–07

2007–08

2008–09

NSW

1,048

371

401

432

410

592

Vic

538

302

211

276

332

302

Qld

750

329

302

320

352

319

WA

602

207

191

232

297

na

SA

823

250

198

204

193

211

Tas

306

83

114

52

107

99

ACT

36

8

9

na

9

22

NT

92

20

19

10

12

25

Australia

4,195

1,470

1,445

1,526b

1,712c

1,570

Source: AIC

Rifles were the most common firearms reported lost or stolen (60 per cent), followed by shotguns (24 per cent) and at the bottom, air rifles and handguns (less than 10 per cent). 

The AIC research showed that in the periods surveyed (2005–06 and 2008–09), most firearms were stolen from private residences (76 per cent) followed by vehicles (10 per cent) and business premises (eight per cent).

Quick guides (NSW):

What do you think of Australia's gun laws? Tweet @SylviaVarnham or @SBSNews to have your say

Data compiled by SBS reporter Jason Thomas

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