Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which twenty children and six adult staff members were fatally shot, US gun laws have come under much scrutiny. President Obama has officially pledged to reduce the number of gun deaths by introducing new firearm legislation. But gun crime isn’t just on the rise in the US: it’s a problem right here in Australia too.
Currently, about 5.2% of Australian adults (approx. 765,000 people) own and use firearms for purposes such as hunting, controlling feral animals, collecting, and target shooting. Pre-1996, gun ownership rates were more around 7%, but this declined after new firearm legislation (the National Agreement on Firearms) was introduced that restricted most types of guns. Six years later, in 2002, additional laws further tightened firearm restrictions.
Although these rates are quite low (especially compared to the US, where around 35% of people own at least one gun), gun crime is still a very real threat in some parts of the country, with Sydney being a hot spot for recent shooting.
Police have reported over 25 shootings in Sydney during the last three months alone. Some of these incidents have consisted of gang-style turf wars over drugs or ongoing feuds between bikie gangs – but firearms are also being used in personal conflicts and organised crime.
Some argue that the recent spate of shootings could be due to the growing ease of buying weapons online. Authorities are working with the Centre for Internet Safety in an attempt to restrict online access to illegal firearms, and border control checks on imported goods have become stricter.
Luckily, overall levels of homicide in Australia have been on the decline for several years, while the proportion of crimes that involve firearms has consistently declined since the early 1980s. In fact, between 1991 and 2001, the number of gun-related deaths in Australia declined by 47% – which is a great testament to the effectiveness of the 1996 gun laws. Hopefully, America will follow suit.