More silencers for the ACT as gun numbers rise nationally

Canberra's gun laws had small but subtle changes just over a year ago, with collectors required to have more secure storage and restrictions eased on silencers.

As of February 18, 2018, partially in response to the need to make kangaroo culling more efficient, silencers were authorised in the ACT for "killing fauna" on public land and land under rural lease.

Under fire: there are more than 2.89 million registered firearms in Australia.

Under fire: there are more than 2.89 million registered firearms in Australia.

Vets and conservation officers can apply to use silencers to "alleviate the suffering of an animal", CSIRO employees can silence their rifles while on expeditions to "collect specimens", and gun dealers can use them when maintaining and testing firearms.

It's part of what a recent NSW report describes as "an established pattern [by the gun lobby] of pushing the boundaries" and "compliance slippage", identifying how a low-profile but effective approach to political lobbying by the pro-gun lobby has steadily won concessions for gun owners.

The recent discussion paper examining gun use and ownership in NSW was commissioned by Gun Control Australia and compiled by an independent think tank, the Australia Institute.

With the ACT having similar firearm regulations as neighbouring NSW, the report reveals how gun ownership is steadily rising, and claims NSW is in breach of the national firearms agreement introduced in 1996 after the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania.

Gun laws and firearms registration in Australia have been under more intense scrutiny since the Christchurch shooting incident in New Zealand on March 15, in which 50 people were shot at a mosque during Friday prayers.

Semi-automatic and assault rifles, plus high-capacity magazines, are now banned in New Zealand, with the government set to introduce a buyback scheme.

Two years ago, Australia's national firearms agreement was revisited, and the Council of Australian Governments redefined minimum requirements for the regulation of firearms. Some of the blanket bans, such as that imposed on semi-automatic weapons, were replaced with tough restrictions.

Of all the reforms introduced 23 years ago, the most significant - a national registration scheme for all firearms - remains unresolved due to the complexities of the states and territories using different police computer systems, inconsistent record-keeping and incompatible data and classifications.

Item 30 of the 2017 COAG agreement states unequivocally: "jurisdictions agree to the nationwide registration of all firearms" and "jurisdictions agree to store registrations on a system which is able to share information with the national information-sharing hub".

While this database remains an aspirational goal supported by the gun lobby, a national system is in place to help track and identify illegal weapons.

Tracking illicit firearms federally is now the responsibility of former ACT top cop Mike Phelan.

Tracking illicit firearms federally is now the responsibility of former ACT top cop Mike Phelan.

The National Firearms Identification Database, run out of Australia's Canberra-based criminal intelligence hub now headed up by the ACT's former chief police officer Mike Phelan, helps police share information about firearm makes, models, calibres and capacities.

Ballistic forensics can also be accessed and shared to help police determine whether firearms used in one state and territory, such during a bikie drive-by shooting in Canberra, may have have been used in another firearms incident interstate.

Four years ago, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) estimated there were 2.89 million legally registered firearms across Australia, an increase of 9.3 per cent since 2011.

It also conservatively estimated there were around 260,000 illicit firearms nationally, "based on intelligence and information from several sources".

Illcit handguns are a particularly significant threat in criminal hands, with the commission noting that a "substantial number of handguns entered the illicit firearms pool through regulatory loopholes in the legislation around deactivated firearms".

"It is estimated more than 5000 handguns have entered the illicit market in this way," the commission noted.

It rated the threat posed by the 3D printing of firearms as low but likely to rise "as technology improves".

In the ACT, the most recently available data from the registry is that the territory has around 19,000 registered firearms, divided into five categories (A, B, C, D and H).

Tasmania, which has a population around 25 per cent higher than the ACT, has more than six times the number of Canberra's registered firearms.

Category A firearms, which include shotguns, air rifles, paintball guns and common rimfire rifles like the .22 calibre, are the most common and require a genuine reason for ownership, such as target shooting or shooting feral pests. Category C is reserved for primary producers and bona fide collectors.