Ten years after the National Firearms Agreement of 1996

Australian Shooter
June 2006

From 1996 onwards SSAA have presented the point of view that:

  • the massacres of the 1980s and Port Arthur were perpetrated by individuals who required the support of mental health advocates well before they committed their horrific crimes.
  • other firearm criminal activity was the result of the activity of perpetrators who were unlicenced, using unregistered firearms.
  • that domestic violence was not being addressed holistically, given that assault, including lethal assault, was overwhelmingly the result of battering or the use of a sharp, piercing object.
  • suicide rates are not related to so-called ‘ease of access to firearms’.

There was sufficient international and national data to support the above premises. However, calls by the sport shooting community to invest the money earmarked for the buyback of low-risk semi-automatic longarms and pump-action shotguns to be diverted into mental health infrastructure, including early intervention programs in domestic violence, have been unheeded. Several social commentators insisted that the long term trends in firearm violence would show that the 1996/97 buyback, costing approximately half a billion dollars and disenfranchising firearm owners, and the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) of 1996 provided increased safety to Australians through lower crime and suicide rates. The Prime Minister was more honest, admitting that the NFA would not guarantee a safer Australia. Despite this frankness, the destruction of thousands of legally-owned firearms was undertaken during the months following the Port Arthur massacre.

The decade that followed has provided the long-term data that the social commentators insisted upon. What it has shown is that the predictions made by the SSAA were correct. The pre-existing trends in homicide, suicide and crime, with or without a firearm, continued without visible interruption between 1996 and 2005. Even the argument that the trends in mass murder have been affected is impossible to sustain – the past decade has revealed the murders at Snowtown and Childers. Fortunately for Australia, mass murder is such a rare event that establishing longitudinal trends is impossible.

According to one report by the Mental Health Council, ‘Out of Hospital, Out of Mind’, the personal and social costs of almost two decades of chronic under-funding for mental healthcare are immeasurable. In 2001, 2454 people died by suicide, representing 4.4 per cent of all deaths among people aged less than 75. The vast majority of those committing suicide had untreated mental disorders, particularly depression and alcohol or drug abuse. Many of these could have responded to early intervention treatment, reducing the numbers of mentally-ill people who commit suicide or are incarcerated for criminal acts.

In recent months, the Federal Government has finally responded to the concerns repeatedly expressed by the SSAA in regard to the problems in the mental health profession. They have allocated $1.8 billion in funding to Australia’s mental health services over the next five years and called on the States to match this increased funding input. What will not happen, however, is acknowledgement that the predictions made by the SSAA were correct and that the licensed firearm owner is a legitimate part of our community with sound, evidence-based solutions to firearm crime and misuse.

Australian Institute of Criminology Facts and Figures Series

Mental Health Council 2003, Out of Hospital, Out of Mind: Review of Mental Health Services in Australia.

Mouzos, J and Reuter, P 2003, Australia: A Massive Buyback of Low-Risk Guns, ‘Evaluating Gun Policy: Effects on Crime and Violence’ J Ludwig, PJ Cook, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, DC.

SANE Australia 2003, Mental Health Report

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