Aim for better data on firearms, says public health expert

Text: 'Aim for better data on firearms, says public health expert.' Image of Terry Slevin (left) standing with others at an Australian Gun Safety Alliance meeting inside Parliament House.

Adjunct Professor Terry Slevin (left) told an audience at Parliament House that gun control is not and never should be a partisan issue. It is and must always be a community safety issue.


On Tuesday 22 November 2022, PHAA Chief Executive Officer, Adjunct Professor Terry Slevin, presented to parliamentarians and colleagues on gun safety at the Australian Gun Safety Alliance’s meeting held at Parliament House, Canberra. Read an edited reproduction of Adj Prof Slevin’s speech below.



Terry Slevin, PHAA CEO

My personal history in this issue commenced when I became Founding Chair of the Coalition for Gun Control in Western Australia, which formed shortly after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.

I am delighted to see the continuation of the bipartisan approach to gun safety as demonstrated by today’s gathering at Australia’s Parliament House. Gun control is not and never should be a partisan issue. It is and must always be a community safety issue.


I’m keen to point out a troubling if poorly understood unintended consequence of the National Firearms Agreement that followed that awful event in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

Based on state laws, the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA), a prominent Australian pro-gun lobby group, is ensured millions of dollars in annual income.

People wishing to obtain a firearms licence in Australia from 1996 must prove they have a ‘genuine reason‘ to own a gun. Sufficient reasons include primary production (an occupation-related reason) and others. However, for many firearm owners who do not fit other listed ‘genuine reasons’, the remaining option is to be a member of an approved sporting shooting club.

This requirement is clearly beneficial for gun safety-related public health, as sporting shooting clubs can educate on gun safety, and observe firearm owners’ behaviour.

Additional responsibilities apply to pistol clubs regarding handgun licence applications, “effectively outsourc[ing] official responsibilities in the public interest,” wrote Associate Professor Philip Alpers.

“Meanwhile the hazards to governance and to this country’s limits on the proliferation of firearms are more ideological and political,” wrote the University of Sydney-based researcher.

“Gun clubs enshrine in our society a core pledge of shooters, which is to introduce children to firearms as early as possible.”

Competitions in some jurisdictions include 11-year-olds.  A fair public policy question is, “is this a good idea?”

While data from states and territories is not as consistent or available as it should be, the current estimate suggests there are more than 868,000 licenced shooters in Australia, who own a total 3.5 million weapons.  It’s estimated that there’s an additional 260,000 illegal firearms in the “grey” market.  The Australian Gun Safety Alliance is working with the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department in the hope of improving the data capture and reporting systems so as to improve quality and consistency of data recording and reporting relating to firearms.

The SSAA has grown from 50,000 to over 200,000 members in the last 26 years. With over 440 SSAA shooting clubs across Australia, and members paying annual fees, they have become a wealthy hobby club.

The influence of pro-gun lobbyists and pro-gun politicians across jurisdictions has already succeeded to some degree.

“[In 2015] just seven top SSAA branches declare[d] [a total] income of $20 million and net assets of $34 million, while the national branch alone collects $10 million in annual fees,” wrote A/Prof Alpers.

“That’s more than double the assets of Swimming Australia, and nine-tenths the income of Athletics Australia. In its [2015] financial return, SSAA National in Adelaide reported an accumulated war chest of $6 million in cash.”

A/Prof Alpers also noted the millions raked in by SSAA state branches in the same period, with $4.4 million in revenue and $5 million in assets for SSAA Victoria.

“Adjusted for inflation, branch assets have increased 559% in value since the 1996 gun laws,” he said.

He also noted that SSAA QLD held $15.7 million in assets and garnered $5 million in income (up a whopping 2,675% since 1996), noting SSAA NSW’s also significantly boosted assets and income.

Currently, SSAA adult members are annually charged a $95 membership fee, with clubs often charging additional fees for facility use and other services.

Let’s not forget the Australian firearms industry. At least one federal political party is well known to have received substantial political donations from both the firearms industry and other shooting-related organisations, quoted from one source to be in the amount of over $615,000 from various organisations in the past 10 years. One wondered which MPs and political parties might also be receiving funding support from the Firearms industry. Might this be an interesting question to put to the Parliamentary Library?

Yet, in this country where we are rightly proud of our gun control efforts, there is only one person paid to work outside government to promote gun safety and to provide policy advice and input across nine jurisdictions. Stephen Bendle, the convenor of the Australian Gun Safety Alliance, is paid one day a week for that work. Stephen Bendle is it.

Let me repeat that: one day per week.

He is supported by various enthusiastic volunteers who squeeze their concerns over gun safety and advocacy activities into the hours between 9pm and midnight, or on weekends. That support, largely provided by the people and organisations here today, is for the Australian Gun Safety Alliance’s crucial activities.

I’ve heard of David and Goliath but the lack of resources provided to gun safety advocates is starting to get more than a little silly.

But I do not want to finish on that note.

I want to thank and congratulate all the hard working and principled leaders, both in the political and public administration sphere, and those in public health and civil society who seek to represent the evidence-based and widespread view that, while there is legitimate use for firearms in Australia, they

  • should and must be tightly controlled (with appropriate protections, regulations, and enforcement)
  • should have proper data collected and reported about where they are, who has them, and any harm that comes from their use
  • and access to them and their use should be considered and treated like a privilege, not a right.


Thanks to you all for supporting and promoting those ideas and assisting in the prosecution of those policies.




Please note much of this speech drew upon the work of Phillip Alpers who reported much of this data in a piece published on the University of Sydney website in 2016.


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