Research suggests it is easier than ever for criminals to get guns illegally in Australia

Research suggests it is easier than ever for criminals to get guns illegally in Australia

He is a Caucasian male, aged 41. He is more likely to have been in the youth justice system, and almost certainly has connections to organised crime.

He is serving an 11-year sentence in jail for a serious firearms-related crime. 

And he knows a guy that can get you a gun.

It’s a portrait of the average Australian who operates in the country’s illegal firearms market, built from the findings of a 2022 Deakin University study.

In the study, criminology professor David Bright and his colleagues conducted 75 interviews with prisoners across 16 correctional facilities comprising drug traffickers, members of organised crime gangs and armed robbers.

The researchers were attempting to build a picture of the illegal gun trade in the Australian underworld.

They found buying an illegal gun in Australia could be as easy as a trip to the supermarket for those in the know.

Figures show a deep reservoir of illegal firearms exists for criminals to tap into, with police measures only able to recover tiny fractions each year.

Research suggests it is easier than ever for criminals to get guns illegally in Australia
Deakin University researchers say there has been a dearth of study into Australia’s illegal firearm market.(ABC News: Jessica Moran)

The underground world of illegal firearms

Professor Bright said most of the interviewees came from backgrounds where criminal behaviour and access to guns were the norm.

More than half of the prisoners had spent time in youth detention or were known to police before the age of 18.

“Some of the stories were shocking, I suppose, in the sense of the violence that some of these men had either experienced or had engaged in using guns,” Professor Bright said.

“The other surprising thing was just how easily some of these men were able to access firearms.”

Members of the Rebels motorcycle club
Many of the prisoners interviewed in the Deakin University study had ties to outlaw motorcycle gangs.(AAP: Alan Porritt)

In the article published in Deviant Behaviour, Professor Bright and his team described a rapid turnaround for criminals hoping to acquire guns.

“Couple of days, a week … I’ll call up, make a few phone calls and within a week I’d have guns here and I’d have a rifle here,” one prisoner with family ties to outlaw motorcycle gangs said.

“If I wanted one I would have got one … within probably half an hour. As long as it takes to drive somewhere, I could have gone and … picked one up,” another prisoner said.

The researchers uncovered a world where respect and the word of someone who could be trusted meant everything.

“When people know you, like you’re not an informant or anything, or you’ve got a good reputation, when people look up to you and stuff like that, they sort of want to deal with you and it’s easy to gain access to guns. It’s just who you know,” one prisoner said.

While the study was conducted in South Australia and New South Wales, Professor Bright said he believed all states in Australia would have similar underground cultures.

“We don’t think that there’s any good reason to believe that the findings would not generalise to other states across Australia,” Professor Bright said.

Victoria Police confirmed with the ABC they had been in contact with Professor Bright regarding the findings of his study.

A man standing outside a police station
David Bright says the illegal firearm market is formed of cohesive, tight networks between criminals.(Flinders University: CJ Taylor)

The source of illegal firearms

The Deakin University study identified the main ways illegal firearms were procured in Australia.

Very few criminals interviewed spoke of obtaining weapons through the internet or “dark web”, with them instead preferring to rely on personal connections.

Guns are commonly obtained from friends and family, as well as from deals where a trusted party has vouched for the potential buyer.

One prisoner was given guns on the condition that he attacked certain people to earn them.

“I had to do two things to get the guns, but that was simple so I didn’t really have to do much,” they said.

“I just had to shoot at people … I didn’t care … I was getting free guns out of it.”

Rural and regional properties where guns may be kept are often targeted by criminals for thefts, as are other criminals who may be keeping illegal guns.

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