LEGAL gun ownership increased sharply on the Northern Rivers over the five years to May, with some parts of the region stocked with enough firearms to arm nearly a third of the population.
In a shift a local shooting club says shows the growing popularity of their sport, Lismore has the biggest stockpile of weapons in raw numbers. Its total registered weapons cache is now 6117 guns after an increase that was more than double the state's 10% rise over the period.
Casino remains the region's most firearm-saturated town with almost a third as many guns as residents.
The Greens obtained the fresh data from NSW Police, who later confirmed the state's number of registered firearms hit more than 850,000 on May 16.
"The total number of firearms licence holders with the authority to possess and use firearms in NSW is 217,725 although not all licence holders own firearms," a police spokesman said.
GUN REGISTRATIONS MAY 2013-MAY 2014
Byron: 41.3% increase to 407 guns - 4% of population
Ballina: 25% increase to 1248 guns - 5% of population
Lismore: 22.4% increase to 6117 guns - 14% of population
Casino: 23.1% increase to 4559 guns - 31% of population
Murwillumbah: 22.7% increase to 2613 guns - 23% of population
"This figure includes individuals, businesses, firearm dealers and club armourers."
While Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge called for tougher laws to stop the surge, sports shooters such as Lismore Target Rifle Club president Derek Cassar thought it was a storm in a teacup and a sign of the pastime's growing popularity.
"We have a lot more juniors getting involved in the sport, and it's not an easy thing to get into," he said.
"To get a shooter's licence and buy a gun, you have to be 18 to begin with.
"I have no doubt there are a lot of guns out there. Just go down to the gun shop in town and see how many they sell.
"But it's the illegal stuff that causes problems."
Mr Cassar said strict handling and storage laws ensured legally-held firearms were safe for users and the community at large.
"Police can turn up at any time and inspect and make sure our guns, bolts and ammo are locked up," he said.
NSW REGISTERED FIREARMS
2001 - 619,000
2011 - 758,802
2012 - 766,504
2015 - 850,636
"It's not a free-for-all like the Greens try to make out.
"We teach the juniors that a gun is not a toy. They have to follow the rules and will get jumped on pretty severely if they don't."
Mr Shoebridge said the number of firearms would continue to grow exponentially unless the law was changed.
"Firearms are not like hamburgers or even motor vehicles, they can last almost indefinitely. So every new gun we allow to be registered adds to an ever growing stock of weapons," he said.
"There are hundreds of thousands more guns now than following the gun buyback in the late 1990s.
"We need a majority of politicians to stand up for safety and stare down the growing gun lobby in this country."
But Mr Cassar argued the figures were skewed due to shooters and collectors owning multiple weapons.
"They're saying there's one gun for every nine residents of NSW," he said.
"That's possibly right, but I've got five at home myself.
"Two haven't been shot for many, many years and the other three are all target rifles.
"They need to take a better look at what they're talking about before they start spouting off."
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