Gun control experts: Don't panic about firearm numbers

AUSTRALIA'S leading gun control experts say there is little reason to panic despite mounting evidence that the number of guns in this country is now back to the figures seen before the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

A study published in the current issue of The American Journal of Medicine found that the gun rate per population was "a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related death in a given country".

In the United States, where Washington is mourning the deaths of the 13 people killed by a gunman at the Navy Yard on Tuesday, there are 88.8 guns per 100 people while Australia is one of the safest countries with 15 guns per 100 people and only one gun-related death per 100,000 people.

Still, it is concerning that over the last decade some one million guns have been imported into Australia replacing those that went to the smelter on the back of Prime Minister John Howard's strong push for tough gun control measures.

The most recent figures show there are 3.2 million registered firearms around the country yet crimes committed with guns have decreased dramatically since the 1980s with knives the weapon of choice for Australian criminals. When there has been a spike in gun crime it has come from altercations between bikies and drug lords.

According to the Institute of Criminology it is the renewed fascination with hunting and sports shooting that has resulted in an increase in guns rather than weapons being acquired for criminal activity.

"Gun ownership is back to 1996 levels," said Colin Campbell who works with the Institute. "And, of course, there are also the guns out there which were never handed in after Port Arthur or were not registered.

"But generally speaking gun ownership does not equate to mass shootings in Australia because we have a different view on firearms here.

"Except for very few exceptions, we view guns with caution and don't look at a collection as badge of honour."