According to recent figures obtained by the New South Wales Greens, gun ownership in the state has increased by 40 percent since 2001. In the last four years alone, new gun licences have jumped 20 percent, presently there 217,725 firearm licence holders in the state and over 850,000 registered guns. So what's behind NSW's surging love of guns?
Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge is his party's firearms spokesperson. He attributes the jump to "the importation of American culture through our media and video games" as well as the state's relatively liberal gun policy.
Under current NSW firearm legislation, to possess and use a firearm you must prove you have a genuine reason. Acceptable ones include pest animal control, sport/target shooting, and recreational hunting. Personal protection doesn't count. Once someone becomes a member of a gun or hunting club, firearm laws allow them to access not just one weapon, but several. The police also run background checks, and you must meet a range of legislative requirements. However there is no limit on the number of firearms you can buy once you have a licence, as a NSW police spokesperson confirmed to VICE.
According to Mr Shoebridge, these clubs can serve as low-cost ways to get a firearm licence. "You attend two meetings a year, you sign up and get a licence at the end of it."
Robert Borsak from the Shooters and Fishers Party in the NSW Upper House owns several guns, although when VICE asked for a number he wouldn't say. He thinks the rise in gun numbers is largely a result of current legal gun owners getting more than one gun. As people's interest in the hobby moves from hunting to shooting they may go from having one pistol to also owning a shotgun. "It's a bit like playing golf, you don't use the same club each time," he said.
Although not all licence holders own firearms, the figures suggest that the average licence holder owns three or more weapons.
His reasoning was supported by a NSW police spokesperson who told VICE that the increase in licences could be "attributed in part to the increase of club membership for the sport of target shooting and recreational hunting."
It's a trend Mitch Newbery, spokesperson for the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (NSW), has noticed as he's seen a steady increase in SSAA NSW's membership over the past few years. "More and more people are coming to realise that shooting is a genuine, legitimate sport and not the antisocial and dangerous criminal behaviour as portrayed by anti-gun minorities. Obviously the growth in new licensed shooters join clubs and participating in the sport means a growth in lawful firearms ownership," he told VICE.
But for Associate Professor Philip Alpers from the Sydney School of Public Health, the increase in guns is worrying. He notes that while most legally held guns will never be used in armed violence, "a substantial 'self defence' market is driven by men with fantasies about armed retribution. We haven't had a public mass shooting in nearly 20 years but only time will tell what effect we'll see now that more than a million firearms have been imported".
Self-described gun control critic and senior research fellow at Griffith University Dr Samara McPhedran dismissed his concerns. She told VICE that despite being personally critical of gun ownership, there are a number of factors fuelling increasing gun numbers, and she doesn't believe any are related directly to crime or violence.
According to her, one reason could be our growing interest in where our food comes from. "When you think about shows like Masterchef, they do a lot of cooking with various game meat, so the idea of hunting for food and as an ethical alternative to factory farming is becoming popular," she said.
She also notes a growing interest in target shooting as a sport that doesn't rely heavily on physical fitness, "you don't have to run fast or be young." Sorry to disappoint New South Wales, you're probably not a state paramilitary gun nuts.
In fact, if our love of guns is really fuelled by physical unfitness and a love of reality TV, The NSW gun craze should be going national any day now.
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