The Second Amendment is a unique treasure in the civil rights world. Many human rights groups and advocates are quick to point out despots and their ravaged victims, perhaps as a plea for sympathy or donations, but few are willing to follow through to the point of granting these people the ability to actually do something about their plight. Our Founders elucidated the rights of a free people with the means to preserve it. You have the right to secure your person, hearth and home from tyrants that would wrongly steal them away; by force if need be. Not many other nations are so blessed. Despite this, active marksmanship cultures thrive around the world, sometimes in a manner superior to the United States. One such place is Australia.
Although separated by the Pacific, the sentiments of Australian and American gun owners are the same. Despite government restrictions Australia’s gun owners are active and enthusiastic shooters. Home storage of firearms is allowed but subject to inspection by the authorities. Safes must meet mandated requirements.
Knee jerk reactions to rare tragedy is the hallmark of gun control efforts. Australians suffered this fate in 1996 following the Port Arthur shootings in Tasmania. The Australians I visited in 2011 still refer to this incident as “The Reason” for their current gun laws. With historic, current, and continuing low levels of crime throughout the country, there are few others. Officials at the federal level pushed new gun laws to state governments despite their opposition, notably by Tasmania itself. While surveys showed up to 85% of Australians in support of some type restriction, many people strongly opposed the laws as implemented. Worse, the restrictions began with a gun buyback scheme from October 1996 to September 1997 to the tune of AUD$500 million. The buyback purchased and destroyed more than 631,000 firearms. Of course, based on records kept, less than three percent of these were military style semi-automatic rifles as used by the perpetrator in the incident that led to the law in the first place. As several Aussie gun owners told me, the buyback was often used to get top dollar on unwanted firearms.
All Australian gun owners require a permit to own a firearm. To qualify for one the potential applicant must first have a “Genuine Reason” to own a specific firearm, which is typically satisfied by producing a valid membership to a gun club or access to suitable hunting areas with written permission from the land owner where such a firearm would be used. A permit allows purchase and each gun must be approved and registered separately. The Australian permit scheme divides firearms into several categories.
Shooting clubs and shooters face licensing requirements that would make many American gun owners quit. While I do not agree with the restrictions Australians endure, the shooters there are very active and enjoy support from a host of government-recognized shooting organizations and from government grants. Australian gun owners are required to show “Genuine Reason” to own a firearm. Shooting organizations keep tabs on member ranges and shooters to demonstrate this as on-going participation in formal events like competition is mandatory.
Category A includes manually-operated rimfire rifles and shotguns, air rifles, and paintball markers. Category B includes manually-operated centerfire rifles and muzzle loading firearms made after 1 January 1901. This is the base level.
Restrictions increase with Category C which includes semi-auto and pump shotguns holding five rounds or less and semi-automatic rimfire rifles with ten round or under capacities. Category C firearms are even more strongly restricted as only competitive shooters needing them for specific disciplines and certain collectors can have them.
Category D includes all self-loading centerfire rifles and all pump and semi-automatic shotguns holding more than five rounds. Functional Category D firearms are restricted to government agencies and rare individual shooters. Collectors may own deactivated versions.
Handguns are another category entirely. Category H includes air pistols and deactivated handguns. To be eligible to own a functioning handgun a person must first compete in formal events for six months at a recognized club using club handguns. Once granted the gun owner must continue to attend a minimum number of formal events yearly and report the results to retain each handgun owned. These events typically comprise classes or recognized competition. Handguns are limited to .38 or 9mm caliber or less and magazines may hold a maximum of ten rounds. Participants in certain approved competitions may acquire handguns up to .45, however, practical shooting competitions, such as IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) and ICORE (International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts) events, are not approved for larger calibers because 9mm/.38 calibers meet the rules.
Handgun ownership is an entirely different category and has additional licensing requirements. Due to magazine capacity restrictions ICORE (International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts) matches are popular practical shooting events.
This list would make most American gun owners wince. Thankfully, despite inept officials writing rules about technology they don’t understand, Australian gun culture is strong albeit small.
Tale of Two Clubs
The Melbourne Gun Club is a top notch shotgun facility in the Yarra Valley offering six DTL (Down The Line) fields, three Trench (International Shooting Sport Federation Bunker Trap) ranges, Double Trap, seven Skeet fields, along with a Sporting Clays and Five Stand course. The facility sprawls thirty acres and David Drinkwater, one of the club’s top DTL shooters, gave me a tour.
The Melbourne Gun Club in the Yarra Valley has 600 members operating and reporting under ACTA shotgun rules. David Drinkwater is a seasoned Down The Line competitor and a regular winner at MGC’s annual championships.
MGC has 600 members and operates under ACTA (Australian Clay Target Association), the national governing body of Clay Target sports. Like most of the shooting organizations in Australia ACTA is an independent sanctioning body that is recognized by the government. The club maintains each member’s ACTA Classification and record book, keeping track of the events each person participates in because event attendance is reportable and a requirement to maintain a gun permit. In addition to shooting match rules for each of its sanctioned disciplines, ACTA dictates the minimum number of events that must be attended to its members. A smaller contingent of the MGC competes in handgun events organized by SSAA (Sporting Shooters Association of Australia) and NRAA (National Rifle Association of Australia.)
While in Echuca I visited the Pine Grove range, which resides on “Crown land” zoned for range use. The club rents the buildings, provides insurance and has access to government funding. A VAPA (Victorian Amateur Pistol Association) affiliate, Pine Grove hosts two practical pistol competitions each month. The bigger ICORE match attracts 25 shooters and features two field courses and five speed shoots. The smaller match is a make up for those needing a required event attendance or those simply wanting to shoot more, seeing about a half dozen shooters. The club also affiliates with FGA (Field and Game Australia) and hosts shotgun events as well.
Daniel Sandercock of Echuca is a former ICORE Victorian State Champion. While ICORE is his primary game he also shoots 1920 (known in the States as Bianchi Cup or NRA Action Pistol) and ISSF Sport Pistol as shot in the Olympics. ICORE is a popular practical shooting event due to the ammo capacity limit on handguns.
Daniel Sandercock of Echuca, a former ICORE Victorian State Champion, demonstrates his Open class revolver on a plate rack. In addition to ICORE Daniel shoots 1920 (Bianchi Cup) and ISSF pistol events.
VAPA members are required to participate in sanctioned events each year or risk losing their handgun license. In addition to the local club membership requirements gun owners must join a recognized state or national shooting organization to retain their permits. VAPA charges each shooter AUD$80 per year and refunds half that back to the shooter’s home range. In addition, Pine Grove charges AUD$80 for an annual range membership for unlimited use along with free match attendance and the club takes care of mandatory reporting.
You may think American shooters have a plethora of organizations but the Aussies have us beat. There are just under one million Australian gun owners, about five percent of the adult population, compared to an estimated 80 million gun owners in the States. Despite having a lower total number of gun owners, the Australian gun culture enjoys a high percentage of active shooters, especially those participating in formal events. Because of this there are a large number of organizing bodies. The aforementioned SSAA is the largest in the country and enjoys formal NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) status with the United Nations. AISL (Australian International Shooting Limited) is comprised of ACTA, FGFA (Field and Game Federation of Australia), NRAA, TRA (Target Rifle Australia), NSWSA (New South Wales Shooting Association) and Pistol Australia. There are sport-specific groups, such as AIHPA (Australia International High Power Association) and area-specific groups like VAPA.
Although most members of the Pine Grove range in Echuca compete in practical pistol events, the club also hosts FGA (Field and Game Australia) shotgun matches and built this mobile target thrower, dubbed the “Trojan Horse.”
The formal reporting requirements for event attendance is one reason so many groups exist. These groups are recognized by the government and provide that “Genuine Reason” needed for gun ownership. In return, these organizations have access to state and federal grants set aside for ranges that are dispersed based on participation. Every Australian gun owner I met is a serious shooter dedicated to their discipline(s) of choice. The gun owners self-identified with their discipline or sport of choice and not by merely being a gun owner or hunter. Not a single one I talked with had ever heard the term “plinking” and rarely engaged in a “shoot-about” (shooting informally) because it wouldn’t help their club or range with funding and isn’t recorded.
I suspect many American gun owners would complain bitterly about being required to actually use their guns at formal shooting events each year and reporting the results to keep their guns, but Aussie shooters seem to have thrived because of it. Of all the concerns over firearms legislation I heard voiced this requirement was largely accepted, even favored. As one shooter put it: “I guess no required match reporting would ease things up a little, but if you aren’t shooting regularly or competing, why even have guns?” In driving to and walking around various ranges I noticed a distinct lack of bullet holes in road signs, trash cans, and non-target range equipment. Slob shooters seem extinct Down Under.
To ensure practical pistol shooters keep all their rounds inside the range’s berm, Pine Grove shooters constructed this mobile top berm when shooting targets at distance.
Americans have the right to bear arms but, witnessing gun owners on public ranges and the low percentages attending classes and events, I hope they retain the ability (skill). Government legislated shooting activity goes against the spirit of free men owning firearms. We must strive to better educate our own, encourage constructive action and vigorously promote good results as examples of positive, self-policing gun owners before the populace decides to legislate against this freedom. That is my hope. Let the Australian example stand as your warning. Do it on your own and establish a rapport that individual gun owners are experts without need of external direction in your community or do nothing and wait for possible legislation to dictate activity for you.
What US gun owners need to know if they go
Australia has greater restrictions on firearms ownership and this makes traveling with them more difficult, but not impossible. If traveling to Australia with firearms, you’ll need to obtain a permit from Australian Customs Service (customs.gov.au) and register with Police Department of each state you’ll visit. There are only six states in Australia so you’ll likely be in only one. It’s worth contacting the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (www.ssaa.org.au) first as they’ll be able to guide you. The Melbourne Gun Club has an article with state web sites and government phone numbers (melbournegunclub.com.au/Air Travel with Guns.pdf)
Be aware of Australia’s Firearm Classifications as this will effect which permits you’ll need. A class is 22 rimfire and airgun and shotgun (not self loading or pump action shotguns), B class is muzzle loading (not handguns) and centerfire rifle, C class is self loading rimfire (capacity not more than 10 rounds) and shotguns self loading or pump with not more than a 5 round capacity. D class is rimfire self loading (less than 10 rounds) and also center fire self loading rifles and self loading or pump shotguns with a mag capacity of more than 5 rounds, and H class is all handguns including air pistols.
Once in country and taking a domestic flight, most carriers use similar procedures as flying in the States. The firearm must be packed in a dismantled condition inside a hard lockable case made of plastic or aluminum with no ammunition. If asked, the owner must be able to unlock the case and show that the firearm is disassembled. Upon checking baggage, inform the airline staff at the counter the case contains a disassembled firearm with no ammunition and fill out a Dangerous Goods tag to be attached to the gun case.