Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gun control under the microscope

There were some key discussions missing from the mid-terms campaign, among them gun control. Having been caught up in the same issue in the 2004 Canadian election campaign I understand just how emotional the various positions can be.

In fact the Canadian pro-gun lobby constantly trotted out figures on the outcome of Australia’s tough gun laws.

I’m not sure where they got their facts, because I’ve been waiting for some years for some definitive research on the issue.

Requests for sources were ignored of course, apart from those coming from the lobby itself.

At last we now have some plausible research findings from the University of Sydney, thanks to one Dr Philip Alpers.

The main finding is that the risk of dying by gunshot has dropped dramatically since the gun buyback scheme was introduced after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

That event led to a gun buyback which saw the number of gun deaths a year fall from an average of 521 to 289, "suggesting that the removal of more than 700,000 guns was associated with a faster declining rate of gun suicide and gun homicide".

Australia now has some of the world's toughest gun laws after the massacre, forcing people to surrender semi-automatic rifles, which reload each time the trigger is pulled, and pump-action shotguns.

The report, titled Australia's 1996 Gun Law Reforms: Faster Falls in Firearm Deaths, Firearm Suicides and a Decade without Mass Shootings, finds that in the 18 years before the gun buyback there were an average of 492 firearm suicides a year.

The report also found the rate of gun homicides fell from an annual average of 93 in the 18 years before 1996 to an annual average of 56.

The latter finding contrasts with a report published in October which found that half a billion dollars spent removing guns had virtually no effect on homicide rates. That is, the decline in homicides is effectively, statistically insignificant.

According to the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, Dr Don Weatherburn, the significant factor is that there have been no mass shootings since the buyback.

112 people had been killed in 11 mass shootings in the 10 years up to Port Arthur, and removing the semi-automatic weapons used in those shootings was a principal aim of the policy.

The gun lobby is right to claim that strong laws will not stop illegal gun ownership, just as tough road laws don’t stop idiot driving. But there are obviously ways to limit the carnage in both cases.

The pro gun lobby in Australia cited potential problems in controlling nuisance animals, particularly in agricultural areas. But it is difficult to argue the need for military style weapons to combat the rabbit threat.

I recall many gun ‘accidents’, in rural parts, before the buy back scheme. Whether they were effectively suicides, murders or just stupidity is open to debate, but the controls have served to curtail these type of incidents.

I simply don’t accept that it is a right to own a firearm. More to the point, there can be no effective argument for firearms and ammunition lying around in family homes.

The self defense argument is a crock, and the problems of accessibility to people with disturbed minds is self-evident.

I guess it would take more than just guts to tackle the issue in the US, as the reaction to mass shootings invariably stops well short of limiting access to firearms.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While I see no point in owning a full/semi automatic rifle, I can see how some people would want to own a revolver or a hunting rifle. Like you said, you can hunt deer with kar98, and you don't need an ak47. At the end of the day, it's nice to have some meat hanging from the bones (unless you use military ammo).

On the other hand, self defence IS important, because police can do diddly poo.

I remember reading a story from the U.S. a few months back, where some guy was breaking into a house, owned by viet nam vet. He threatened him with a knife, the vet pulled out a gun and shot him. The funny part is (I see how you're already laughing, but bare with me) that the robber ran out, into his car, sped away and crashed into a patrol car. :)