Guns seem to take anti-gun activists to a dark place inside themselves but shooters enjoy far more pleasant, positive experiences...

Matho’s blog: Stolen guns, missing data and crooked claims

The NSW police and the state’s premier say there’s no need to tighten gun laws, despite clamouring from the anti-gun lobby’s John Crook and the effects of media stories that confuse criminal possession of guns with legitimate firearm ownership.

Premier Barry O’Farrell says the state will not go it alone on guns laws, expressed no concern that legal firearms owners posed a threat and called on the federal government to get involved in efforts to fight black marketeers.

That’s all as it should be. No knee-jerk reactions, whether to quiet the media, to appeal to poorly-informed voters or to appease personal prejudice (remember when John Howard admitted he hated guns?).

Crook keeps harping on about stolen guns in criminal hands, but he cannot quantify it. To my knowledge, he has have never tried; he’s only given generalised quotes that the media churns over and over.

No one seems capable of even closely quantifying how many stolen guns end up in the hands of active criminals in Australia. The fact is, we do not know where crims get their guns, not beyond a few hunches, some anecdotal evidence and a statistically irrelevant number of seized, identifiable, formerly registered guns.

We don’t know how many unregistered guns have been circulating since registration came along in 1996. We don’t know how many are smuggled into the country. I wish we did know all this.

The NSW police – and I believe the other states’ forces are in the same boat – do virtually nothing to gather good data about firearms in their possession.

“Firearms we take possession of are categorised as ‘seized’ or ‘surrendered’. We are unable to quantify those figures any further,” a NSW police spokesperson told me.

A 2009 Crimtrac report identified a host of issues with the management of guns that police either seize or have surrendered to them. They ranged from a basic lack of knowledge about firearms by police officers through to the inability of Australia to coordinate checks between states despite our extensive state-based firearms registries and other ways police forces can communicate.

The police forces do not conduct detailed audits of the guns in their possession. It’s too labour intensive, too costly, too far beyond their resources and abilities. Our political masters are probably appalled at the thought of spending huge sums on counting, cross-referencing and examining tens of thousands of guns. It’s bad enough having to fund registries…

So no answers are likely to come soon, even if O’Farrell gets the help of all the governments of Australia. The police aren’t going to divert resources away from the direct pursuit of the lowlife crims who’re shooting the guns right now.

John Crook won’t shut up, but he’s been crying wolf for too long. The polls all – every one of them – show that legal firearm ownership and legitimate shooting are well regarded in society today. O’Farrell must know it, if not for the poll results then because he has two members of the Shooters and Fishers Party poking thorns in his side to remind him that their supporters are numerous, active and not willing to be pushed around any more.

Popularity aside, there is no need to tighten gun laws. They’re tight. And all the evidence points to the fact that, if anything, there are areas where they can be relaxed without causing any danger to anyone.

Either way, it will do nothing to stop Sydney’s criminal shootings.


Mick Matheson




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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.