There are now more guns in Australia than before the Port Arthur massacre

The Port Arthur memorial site. Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Australia’s national arsenal of private guns is now larger than before the strict control laws came in following the Port Arthur massacre 20 years ago.

Research by the University of Sydney shows the million guns destroyed after Port Arthur have been replaced with 1,026,000 new ones, and the surge is continuing higher. Australia imported 104,000 firearms last financial year.

“Australia claims to have solved the gun problem yet this could be a temporary illusion,” says Philip Alpers, founding director of at the university’s School of Public Health.

On April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant walked into a cafe in Port Arthur, Tasmania, and shot dead 35 people and wounded 23 others using semiautomatic weapons.

The latest research shows the strict gun laws introduced following that shooting were followed by a buying spree, with banned rapid-fire rifles and shotguns replaced by newly imported single-shot firearms.

However, the number of people owning guns per head of population is 23% lower now than it was before Port Arthur. And the research shows the proportion of households with a firearm is down by 75% since 1988.

“Those who already possess several guns have bought more,” says associate professor Alpers.

“Until recently the average Australian shooter owned three to five firearms. The same people now keep a larger collection, and a proportion of those guns continue to leak into the illicit market.

“The most profound change has been in public attitude. At this 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre we’ve seen a resurgence of public scepticism at the motives of self-interest groups seeking to wind back gun laws.

“In recent debates we’ve heard little but support for the public health and safety measures forced on us two decades ago following the rampage of one solitary male, enabled with a couple of guns.”