Australian Gun Politics is a relatively minor political and social issue, only coming to light after major incidents like the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, perpetrated by Martin Bryant, a mentally challenged man. Prior to the aforementioned incident, each Australian state and territory had varying gun legislation, and it is not much of a surprise that the Port Arthur Massacre occurred in Tasmania, the state with the most liberal gun laws (it was the last state to mandate any form of firearm licensing, and even that was so poorly enforced that Martin Bryant obtained the firearms used in Port Arthur from a legal gun dealer while having no firearms license whatsoever), and even now, Tasmania's gun ownership rate is the highest in Australia. Since Port Arthur, gun laws in Australia were placed under Federal Government control, making equal gun laws in all states, mandating licenses for all firearms nationwide, and severely restricting the self loading rifles and shotguns that were involved in the Port Arthur Massacre, with 85% of Australians supporting this change in legislation. A further change to legislation occurred in 2002 to restrict handgun ownership after they were used to commit Australia's deadliest school shooting (but then again, there were only 5 school shootings, 2 of which had fatalities, to ever happen in Australia). Finally, the prime minister at the time, John Howard, temporarily raised a certain tax to pay for a gun buyback scheme; for understandable reasons, he wore a bulletproof vest when he announced this.
Even then, most Australians as well as both major parties believe that current gun laws are fair and appropriate, and as such, political debates rarely mention gun politics unless of a recent firearms incident, and there is little left wing vs. right wing difference in opinions over gun policy, and guns aren't usually seen as self defence weapons in Australia. The exception goes to the Australian Greens Party, which have been pushing for tougher gun laws continuously from its foundation to the present day (its founder Bob Brown pushed for more restrictive gun laws and licensing in Tasmania since before Port Arthur, but since other Tasmanian State legislators then had a "What Could Possibly Go Wrong??" attitude, he had little success, but now, even present gun laws seem too liberal for the Greens).
The prime minister responsible for changing gun legislation in 1996, John Howard, considers it one of his greatest achievements, and expressed disappointment at the USA for not doing the same after its shooting incidents. note This link explores how cultural factors allow for Australia to support gun control. According to The Other Wiki, 5.2% of Australian adults own firearms of any type. Although debate over the law's effectiveness and even existence still surface over twenty years after the fact, this isn't the place to talk about it.
As of 2013, however the total number of guns in Australia reached levels equal to that prior to Port Arthur. In spite of this, gun crime is still decreasing, gun deaths have halved and 90% of those gun deaths are single fatality incidents like domestic violence and suicide.
In light of the 2014 Martin Place Siege in Sydney perpetrated by lone wolf terrorist Man Haron Monis, Senator David Leyonhjelm suggested that the attack was tragic because the people in the cafe were Straw Civilians who did not bear arms, claiming that Australia is a "Nation of Victims" of harsh gun laws, instead of, you know, terrorism. Needless to say, his suggestion was widely criticized, including by politicians on the left and right, and also because several foiled terrorist plots in Australia have nothing to do with gun laws.
Also of note, silencers, flash suppressors, bayonets and their fittings, laser sights, and bulletproof vests do not fit into any of the below licensing categories are only permitted for government agencies in Australia, such as the military, police forces and intelligence agencies.
- Category A firearms require a "Genuine reason" to be supplied with a license application - hunting, pest control, target practice and sport, but not self-defence can be given as "Genuine reason". They include rimfire rifles that are not self loading (read: limited to low power), shotguns that are not pump-action or semiautomatic, air rifles and paintball markers.
- Category B firearms require "Genuine need" as to why a Category A firearm is inappropriate, such as for hunting dangerous game (requires separate licenses, permissions and game fees) such as wild boar, camel, brumbies, water buffalo and crocodiles. They include centrefire rifles that are not self loading (centrefire includes military ammunition, sniper rounds and high power rounds, so even powerful bolt-action sniper rifles like the TAC-50, SV-98, M-24, AS50, Blaser 93 Tactical, AW50, M99, Arctic Warfare, AR-50, M95, Hecate II and HS .50 are classified as Category B firearms) and muzzleloaders manufactured after 1 January 1901 (date of Australian Federation).
- Category C firearms are limited to some types of primary industry personnel, occupational shooters, licensed collectors and some clay target shooters. They include self loading rimfire rifles holding <11 rounds and pump-action or self loading shotguns holding <6 rounds.
- Category D firearms are limited to government agencies and a select few occupational shooters, while collectors must deactivate this type of firearm. They include self loading centrefire rifles, pump-action or self loading shotguns with a 5+ round capacity. Of note, the weapons used by the perpetrator of the Port Arthur massacre are what would now be Category D firearms.
- Category H firearms include all forms of handguns, even air pistols, deactivated handguns and depending on the state, muzzle loading handguns. They are limited to target shooters and certain security guards where your job requires possession of a firearm. To be eligible for a Category H firearm, a target shooter must serve a probationary period of 12 months the first 6 months using club handguns, then in the remainder of the last 6 month probationary license, an application may be made, permit to acquire for one air pistol OR one rimfire pistol. A minimum number of matches yearly to retain each category of handgun and be a financial member of an approved Pistol Club.
- Category R/E firearms are restricted weapons, such as autocannons, machine guns, selective fire rifles, submachine guns, selective fire shotguns, sawn-off long guns, machine pistols, as well as anything burst-fire capable, Gatling guns, chain guns, flame-throwers, anti-tank guns, howitzers, artillery, rocket launchers and grenade launchers. In Australia, their use is limited to the military and elite police units. They can be owned by collectors in some states provided that these weapons have been rendered permanently inoperable but are still subject to the same storage and licensing requirements as fully functioning firearms.
- The final category is for "antique'' firearms, generally muzzle loading black powder flint lock firearms manufactured before 1st January 1901. Depending on the state, they can be either procurable without licensing, or classified as Category A or B.
- Although not officially a category, a large part of the illegally owned firearms in Australia that fall into Categories R/E, H, C and D were either made locally or imported prior to Port Arthur but never registered or surrendered, contrary to the belief that Australian gun policy created a large market for illegal gun importation. Case in point: the sawn-off pump-action shotgun used by lone wolf terrorist Man Haron Monis in the 2014 Martin Place Siege in Sydney proved hard to trace due to never being registered since it was legally imported into Australia around the 1950s when gun laws were less stringent.