• Alpers appeared by webcam on ABC TV to start building public fear of bolt-action and similar firearms.
    Alpers appeared by webcam on ABC TV to start building public fear of bolt-action and similar firearms.

The gun control lobby may have signalled the start of its campaign to ban bolt-action rifles in Australia, after worrying comments from gun researcher Philip Alpers.

Alpers, speaking on ABC TV, turned the focus of gun control away from mass shootings and focussed instead on domestic violence, suicide and rifles that shoot “one bullet”.

"Guns are a bit like a virus," he said on ABC TV. "You clamp down on one type of gun, another one pops up and you have to deal with that.”

He has highlighted the fact that Australian shooters have bought as many rifles as were destroyed during gun buybacks and amnesties since 1996 — he puts the figure at 1 million — and has been spruiking the line that “it only takes one bullet” in a number of comments to the media.

“Remember that 90 per cent of gun deaths have nothing to do with mass killings,” he told the ABC. “They’re actually suicides and domestic violence, and it only takes one bullet in a domestic violence incident.”

Deaths by firearm in Australia — suicide, homicide and accident — have remained relatively static for the last seven years of available data (2004-10), following steady declines that began well before the 1996 gun laws were introduced.

Deaths have dropped while the number of firearms owned by Australians has risen by around 50%.

There are now estimated to be more than 3 million legal firearms in Australia, while firearm-related deaths number just over 200 each year, but that is unlikely to mean the anti-gun lobby will stop trying to have more bans put in place.

Alpers also repeated the claim that most criminals are sourcing stolen or lost guns from the legal market rather than imports, but once again he did not consider the fact that the majority of firearms stolen from licensed owners are .22-cal rimfire rifles, not the handguns and other more purposeful firearms favoured by the organised criminal networks that have been involved in shootings.

Police have seized hundreds of handguns being smuggled into Australia over the past few years, but no one knows how many have slipped over the borders undetected.

Alpers has been taking recommendations to the US government as it investigates ways to reduce gun violence there.

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