Don't go backwards on gun control: Mikac

By Megan Neil and Belinda Tasker
AAP

For Walter Mikac, nothing sums up the value of Australia's tough gun laws better than one statistic: no mass shootings since Port Arthur.

His two young daughters and wife were among the 35 people killed two decades ago in Port Arthur and he does not want Australia to go backwards on gun control.

"We haven't had one mass murder in 20 years," he said on the 20th anniversary of the massacre.

"There's no single statistic that can back up the worth of that legislation more than that."

A sweeping review of data covering gun ownership, imports and deaths has found that while the number of firearms has risen since Port Arthur, there are fewer owners and shooting fatalities.

Research by Sydney University's Associate Professor Philip Alpers found the number of overall gun deaths has reduced 55 per cent since Port Arthur, while the rate of shooting homicides dropped from 104 in 1996 to 31 in 2014.

But Assoc Prof Alpers' research also shows the one million guns destroyed as a result of tougher laws introduced following the 1996 massacre have been replaced by 1.026 million new ones.

While population growth accounts for some of the rise and gun ownership per capita is 23 per cent lower since Port Arthur, he says the number of firearms in private arsenals is rising.

"The average licensed gun owner, even before Port Arthur, owned three to five firearms. It seems now that the people who owned that average now own more," he told AAP.

"Considering the proportion of households with firearms in them has dropped precipitously in the past 20 years, we can only conclude that those people now have more guns."

But the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia has dismissed Assoc Prof Alpers' findings, saying the rise in firearm imports and ownership is down to two things.

"The Australian dollar was, at one time, almost on parity with the US dollar meaning it was actually cheaper to buy a new firearm rather than a second-hand one," SSAA president Geoff Jones said.

"The mining boom saw well-paid workers who had the time and finances to take up a new hobby embrace the safe, fun and all-abilities sport of shooting."

Mr Mikac hopes Australians don't become complacent just because there hasn't been a mass shooting.

"I think the important thing is people just keep that in mind, that we don't want to go back to a situation where that's possible," he told reporters on Thursday.

Assoc Prof Alpers, who is also a director of GunPolicy.org, also believes there is a risk of a "temporary illusion" developing in regards to Australia having solved its 'gun problem'.

Mr Mikac said the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, a charity he set up to protect children from violence, was not advocating a strengthening of gun laws.

But he noted that minor elements of the national firearms agreement struck after Port Arthur have been eroded, pointing to an 11-year-old being able to shoot at a NSW gun club and the lack of a lower age limit in Western Australia.

"If you allow that to keep happening it just opens the door for further things," he said.

GUNS IN AUSTRALIA


  • Estimated civilian firearms: down from 3.2m in 1996 to 3.05m in 2005


  • Percentage of households with at least one gun: 16pct in 1994 to 6.2pct in 2005


  • Licensed firearm owners: 1.2m in 1997 to 730,000 in 2012


  • Estimate of illicit firearms: at least 260,000


  • Annual firearm imports: 89,760 in 1996/97 to 104,323 in 2014/15


  • Total gun deaths: 516 in 1996 to 230 in 2014


  • Gun homicides: 104 in 1996 to 31 in 2014


  • Firearms surrendered/seized 1987-2015: 969,362

(Source: GunPolicy.org, based on ABS and Customs data)