We Asked Australians Where They Got Their Illegal Guns
In a country with strict gun laws, unregistered firearms are still available on the black market.
In our latest series, Australiana, VICE is exploring national identity beyond the stereotypes. There are no cork hats or shrimps on the barbie here, we're letting Australians tell their own stories, free of national myth or propaganda.
In April of 1996 Martin Bryant walked into Port Arthur and shot 35 people dead, wounding 23 others. The Coalition Government of the time reacted swiftly, buying back existing firearms and heavily restricting the sale of new ones. We haven't had a mass shooting with deaths of five or more since.
The laws differ from state to state, but generally to own a firearm you must prove yourself to be a paid member of a target-shooting club, or a registered hunter with written permission from a landowner allowing you to hunt on their land. All applicants undergo rigorous background checks by police, and even then gun sales are predominantly .22s, shotguns, and air rifles. Anything automatic is off-limits.
Despite these restrictions, plenty of criminals and collectors still manage to find workarounds. In fact, recent research conducted by the ABC and Fact Check has suggested that although the rate of firearm suicide had already fallen 67 percent since 1996, the reforms didn't have as much of an impact on firearm homicide rates.
To find out how to get a gun in this day and age, I asked a few anonymous gunslingers.
The Standover Man
Carlo is an old school bouncer turned debt collector. He is a quiet, sinister man, but has a great sense of humour—in the creepiest way imaginable. Here, he tells us how he got his gun.
I've got a Smith and Wesson 38 special. I took it off a panel beater that owed a mate of mine some money. I've never owned or come across any flashy guns; a lot of the ones in circulation are beat-up old things with unknown priors. I used to never care for the bloody things but these days I change them as much as I change my phone number.
A few years ago I met with a bloke at a pub, put the hard word on him, basically just told him to do the right thing. Next minute I'm walking to my car and a lady pushing one of those old people walkers pulled out a sawn-off the size of a 30cm ruler and told me to do the right thing. That night I learned that times had changed and it's not about how big and tough you are anymore. Any lady with a pram could have your measure in this shit storm.
The way things are these days, I can't imagine what Australia would be like if we had the same laws as America—we'd all be fucked I reckon. But guns are getting harder to come by. I guess the more they get used, the more people are forced to get rid of them.
The Gun Collector
I met Andrew five years ago at a rural pub in country Victoria. I had a Jesse James belt buckle which he noticed, then told me he had the same gun as the famous outlaw. I called bullshit and we wound up on his farm an hour later. Here's how the conversation panned out.
This Smith and Wesson Schofield Model 3 is one of many firearms I own. I've got a category G license but I'm not permitted to own half these guns. I've been collecting guns ever since I turned 18, which was in the late 70s, and a very different time for gun enthusiasts.
The town we were from used to have bikies ride by with shotguns stuffed in their saddlebags, one of them told me when he got pulled over in the 80s, they found him riding around with a loaded shotgun and gave him a fine. It would be very different if the same thing happened today.
My old man was an old era blacksmith who'd take me hunting and teach me all about how to pull rifles apart and work them. Me and the old man never really talked much, he was a hard bastard, but every now and again he'd talk me through the patience and danger of hunting in the outback. He took it really seriously and didn't condone any mucking around with live guns.
It's a real shame the way a few dickheads spoil it for the rest of us. Kids with big egos closing their eyes and letting off rounds at each other, turning this great country into a nanny state. This really ends up impacting honest hunters and firearm enthusiasts who share a passion for guns, the mechanics, and for the sport.
The Drug Dealer
Robbie owns an illicit pharmaceutical business. His hand in the manufacture and distribution of party drugs has forced him to seek his own protection.
I own a Colt 1911 that was given to me by one of my partners from out of state. I think it was his old man's gun from the 80s but he kept it in real good nick and gave it to me as a present a few years ago.
I keep a gun on me just in case my door gets kicked in by scumbags trying to rip me. I pray I never have to use it. I just keep it for my own personal safety at home. I don't usually put myself in situations with people that I don't know or haven't met through a very trustworthy connection.
Even a lot of the guys I know didn't really need to carry guns up until a few years ago when meth kinda took over the scene. Then more and more robberies began and everyone started getting paranoid on each other.
You can't really trust any new contacts anymore so people are always looking to protect themselves from junkies. The junkies will shoot ya with an old sawn-off .22 rifle. They'll use anything crude and duct-taped together, they don't care. But it's a risk we're all taking to do whatever we have to do.
The Far-Right Militia Guy
A 3D printed AR57. Image via
I've known Toby a long time. He always struck me as the kind of guy who talks about joining the army but never had the balls. So I guess he resorted to the next best thing: joining a far-right Aussie patriots group on Facebook. He didn't want to meet in person so we had a chat via skype, where he showed me half a plastic handgun that didn't look convincing. It goes without saying that I don't endorse his opinions.
I've been working on 3D printing plastic 9mm handguns for the last couple of years. I just got the files from the dark web, it's a pretty intricate process especially because it's really fucking difficult to find firing pins in Australia.
If we look at all the gun violence in Sydney, it goes to show how much power the Middle Eastern gangs have. All it takes is another major incident like what happened in Cronulla for all these guys to just get together and commit something completely nuts. And we won't be able to defend ourselves.
I think we should have the right to defend ourselves and follow the U.S lead to bear arms because our government seems to be slipping into a fully-fledged nanny state that is going to struggle protecting its citizens. That's why I need a gun.
*All names have been changed.Follow Mahmood on Twitter or Instagram