The SSAA NSW general population study on firearms attitudes provides a unique insight into the views of NSW residents towards firearms ownership and how well they understand laws that apply to firearms owners. The study explored attitudes in-depth among more than 1000 NSW residents and tested whether their attitudes changed once they had a clear picture about the current status of firearms laws. The results demonstrate four main findings:
- Mixed views about ownership: There are currently mixed views among the NSW public about firearms ownership and use.
- Neutral impression about owners: A majority of the NSW public do not have a negative view of firearms owners and the largest proportion have no real impression.
- Ignorance of laws: There is a substantial lack of knowledge about the laws relating to firearms.
- Knowledge increases acceptance: Improving the knowledge of the general public about firearms leads to a higher level of acceptance of firearms ownership and use in NSW.
The fundamental question the survey put to the participants related to whether they accepted or opposed firearms: What is your attitude towards firearms ownership and use by Australian civilians?
Responses showed that 30% of people accept firearms ownership, 13% have no strong opinion and 57% oppose it. This adds up to roughly a 40:60 split between those who accept and those who oppose firearm ownership.
Perceptions of firearm owners
An important issue for many members of SSAA NSW is the perception that exists about firearms owners, so the survey asked participants: What impression do you have of those NSW residents who are legally licensed to own firearms in NSW?
Contrary to a belief among many firearms owners that the public in general has a negative perception, the results reveal that only 8% of the population has a very negative view of legally licenced firearm owners and a further 20% have a negative view.
This means that 72% of the general public are not negative, with 30% having a positive view, and 42% simply admitting they have no real impression.
The extent of restrictions on firearms is a major topic in any debate around ownership and use. The general public were asked their views on this topic: What are your views on current firearms laws in NSW?
Regardless of their knowledge of firearms laws, responses revealed that a total of 41% of people felt that the current restrictions were about right (31%) or too restrictive (10%).
Slightly fewer felt that the laws should be more restrictive (37%) and the balance of 22% admitted they didn’t know enough to say. This means that the population is split roughly 40:60 again, but with the minority of 37% wanting more restrictions and the majority of 63% either satisfied with the current restrictions or without an opinion either way.
Need for change
Taking this a step further, the survey then invited participants to provide their views on the need to change NSW firearms laws with the question: Which of the following statements best reflects your personal attitude towards the laws affecting firearms ownership in NSW?
This revealed that 20% of people felt that firearm laws did not need tightening, including 5% who thought they were ‘too tight and should be relaxed’. At the other end of the spectrum, a similar proportion of people (21%) advocated that there should be a ‘ban on ownership by civilians’.
Among the remaining 59% of people, 40% considered that NSW ‘should only allow firearms under special conditions’ and the remaining 19% didn’t know whether they should be changed or not.
This means that out of every 10 people, two want a ban on ownership, two believe laws should remain the same or relaxed and four approve of firearms under special conditions.
This is a critical finding for firearm owners and policy makers, since the current laws do provide special conditions for ownership.
However, the challenge is to ensure that the public understand how these special conditions apply.
These responses point to knowledge of the law being an important factor in determining attitudes towards firearms ownership, so the survey asked people: How familiar are you with firearm laws that apply in NSW?
In response, a clear majority of seven out of ten of the NSW public admitted to having a relatively poor level of understanding about the detail of firearms laws. This included 34% who knew ‘very little about them’, 17% who agreed they ‘don’t know much about them at all’ and 18% who said they ‘really don’t know anything about them’.
On the other hand, only one quarter thought they had ‘a fair idea about them’ (25%) and one in 20 felt they ‘knew a lot about them (6%).
This finding is also critical to firearms owners and policy makers because it suggests that the current attitudes of the general public towards firearms laws are not based on a solid understanding of the existing legal framework.
NSW vs US
Most people (68%) knew the real situation was that NSW laws are much tougher than US laws in relation to firearms. However, three out of every ten people still did not know this, with one-quarter admitting that they ‘really don’t know the difference’.
In order to gain a more precise understanding of the level of knowledge among the general public in relation to firearms laws, the survey also presented participants with a simple question about the current legal situation: Here are 14 regulations that either currently apply to firearms ownership in NSW or are being considered for introduction as law. For each, please tell us whether you believe it already applies as law or not.
The responses revealed a very patchy knowledge of some of the most important firearms laws. While 70% of people thought that police background checks were currently law, and 67% believed that storage laws were in place, only half the population or less recognised that nine out of the 14 laws were currently required. These included significant laws such as transportation requirements, compulsory firearms training, cooling off periods and mandatory attendance requirements.
Revealing the facts
The survey followed up on this lack of knowledge by testing the potential benefits of improving the knowledge of the general public. It asked participants: According to NSW legislation, all the regulations listed in the previous questions are currently required by law for firearms ownership in NSW. What effect, if any, does this fact have on your attitude towards licenced firearms ownership and use in NSW?
This showed that one-third of the population (34%) were more inclined to accept firearms ownership after realising the extent of the legal framework on firearms.
Among the remainder, almost half said that it had no effect on their attitudes (48%) and only 18% were less satisfied and said they were more inclined to oppose.
This finding is particularly important for SSAA NSW’s activities at influencing decision makers and the general public because it shows how the level of acceptance in the community can be influenced strongly simply by revealing the facts of existing controls on firearms.
The three charts below show how attitudes changed before the facts were revealed and after they were explained. They show that on each measure there was a substantial increase in positive views and a decrease in negative attitudes.