How many guns are too many

Two Glen Innes police officers were shot by a man with a registered high-power rifle in January.
Two Glen Innes police officers were shot by a man with a registered high-power rifle in January.

The Tenterfield Shire has enough licenced firearms to arm every other person, with one owner alone having a 30-strong arsenal.

The shire has 699 registered firearm owners who posses 3402 guns in postcode 2372; on average five per owner, or six guns for every 10 people living here.

The stats are included in a website put together by MLA David Shoebridge. He argues NSW law contains a loophole which improperly permits owners to claim multiple guns for the same reason.

The information was gathered through a Freedom of Information request to NSW police in 2017 and updated for data to March 2019. Mr Shoebridge excluded firearm collectors from the ownership stats.

NSW's biggest arsenal is in Moonbi, west of Tamworth, where a single firearm owner in licensed to own 311 guns. In 2017 there was an arsenal of 312 guns in the same postcode, 2353 - possibly the same person.

By comparison, there are just 467 guns in the Sydney postcode of 2030. The postcode, which covers the wealthy inner-city suburb of Vaucluse, has just 113 registered firearm owners, with the most well-armed owning 35 guns.

All told, there are 33,445 guns in our region, up from 31,185 in 2017, an increase of 2260.

To get a firearm permit in NSW you need to have a "good reason ... directly related to the reason for the issue of my firearms licence". But there's no obligation to justify owning multiple firearms for the same purpose, typically for farming purposes or target shooting.

"Gun owners can endlessly recycle the same "good reason" to get their first gun and then their second gun, their 10th gun and their 300th gun," Mr Shoebridge said in a media release.

"It is impossible to see how any one citizen can establish a "genuine" or "good reason" to have dozens, or even hundreds of guns."

Robert Borsak, MLC for the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party said he didn't think there were too many guns in NSW.

"I don't, because I think if you look at the per capita number of firearms that are owned by law abiding citizens, it's not much more than it was 20 years ago.

"And of course the mix of those firearms is different too. There are no self-loaders, there are no semi-autos, there are no pump-actions (shotguns). Certainly none that are legal anyway."

Mr Borsak said the the licence holder in Moonbi has a right to ought to own as many guns as he does.

"First of all, why should you or I even know that someone in Moonbi owns 300 guns? That information doesn't need to be public.

"He may have 300 firearms because he's a collector."

Mr Shoebridge's numbers exclude collector's licences. Mr Borsak argued the numbers cannot exclude all collectors because a collector's licence does not allow a person to actually fire the weapons they possess and that therefore they tend to obtain regular class A or B licences.

"The two things that primarily make our firearms laws work are safe storage and universal background checking. They're the two things that really keep us safe in the sense that people who shouldn't get their hands on firearms (don't)."

Mr Borsak argues that the release is "mischief making", blames it for an increase in firearm theft and said it serves no public benefit.

Last week police launched Operation Armour, which aims to target illegal black market firearm possession and gun theft across NSW. At the launch in Tamworth, police said stolen guns are routinely used in other crimes or as currency in the drug trade.

"What greater example do we need then here in Tamworth with the death of our officer, David Rixon, from an unlicensed firearm in the hands of a criminal," Assistant Commissioner Geoff McKechnie said.

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