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What John Howard could teach the US about gun control

The US National Rifle Association has been a tad suspicious of John McCain after he voted to support a mandatory 72-hour waiting period for background checks on gun purchasers at gun fairs and when he championed campaign-finance legislation that the gun lobby saw as an attack on their rights to expression. The Columbine High School killers obtained their guns from such a fair.

With the NRA having the largest grass roots vote delivery network in the US, and promising $40m to defeat Obama, Sarah Palin has been a masterly choice to tour the midwest and southern rump to paper over potential electoral concerns about McCain being a closet liberal among abortion hating, God fearing, gun loving Republicans.

So what would Palin’s audiences make of Australia’s record on gun control? Ever since John Howard’s 1996 post Port Arthur gun law reforms, our local gun lobby in Australia has been the laughing stock of its US brethren. Our 1996 reforms were precipitated by the Port Arthur massacre, the 13th mass shooting in 15 years in which five or more victims died in places like Hoddle and Queen Streets in Melbourne and Strathfield Plaza.

The central provisions of the reforms were the ban on semi-automatic rifles and pump action shotguns, accompanied by gun amnesties and two national buybacks, which together saw some 820,000 guns destroyed. Because of their rapid firepower, semi-automatics are the guns of choice for those intent on killing many people quickly. John Howard introduced the reforms to prevent US-style mass killings, not primarily to prevent criminal or domestic gun homicides or gun suicides.

In the 12 years since the law reforms, there have been no mass shootings. But there is also evidence of wider collateral benefits in reduced gun deaths overall. While the rate of firearm homicide was reducing in Australia by an average of 3% per year prior to the law reforms, this more than doubled to 7.5% per year after the introduction of the new laws, although to the delight of our local gun lobby, this failed to reach statistical significance simply because of the low statistical power inherent in the small numbers involved.

Gun deaths in Australia are dominated by suicides, with about 79% of all gun fatalities, followed by 15% homicides and 2% unintentional shootings. Suicide with guns has what coroners euphemistically call a very high “completion rate”. When those attempting suicide use a gun, they don’t need a semi-automatic. The trigger gets pulled once, so a single shot suffices, from any gun that remained unaffected by the law reforms. So by removing only semi-automatics, we really wouldn’t expect any decline in gun suicides.

Yet as with gun homicides, firearm suicides in males declined from 3.4 deaths per 100,000 person years in 1997 to 1.3 per 100,000, a decline of 59.9%. The rate of all other suicides declined from 19.9 deaths per 100,000 in 1997 to 15.0 per 100,000 in 2005, a 24.5% decline, less than half that for gun suicides.

Having more guns around seems to be associated with more gun suicides, and more suicides overall. A paper published in this week’s prestigious New England Journal of Medicine compares gun suicide rates in the 15 US states with the highest rate (47%) of household ownership with six states with the lowest rates (15%). While the rates of non-firearm suicide were equal in these two groups, the states with high gun ownership had 3.7 times more male gun suicides and 7.9 times more female gun suicides than the low gun ownership states.

The USA has 14.3 times Australia’s population, 104 times our total firearm-caused deaths (30,143 in 2005 vs 289 in 2003), and 294 times Australia’s firearm homicide rate (12,352 in 2005 vs just 42 in 2005/06). In 1979, 705 people died from gunshots in Australia. Despite population growth, in 2003, this number had fallen to 289.

Gun lobby affiliated researchers in Australia have sought to repudiate these outcomes using embarrassingly naïve methods that have been heavily criticised in the research literature. While news of the latest gun massacre in the United States remains depressingly common, Australians today enjoy one of the safest communities on earth. John Howard’s first and most popular law reform stands as the world’s most successful reform of gun laws.

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  • 1
    ChrisPer
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Professor Chapman does not say that he was for many years one of the lead activists pushing for extreme gun laws. His own credibility is at stake when the gun laws are assessed. Nor does he reveal that his expertise is in anti-smoking propaganda methods, and his lifelong record of activism against smoking and guns is that of a crusader whose concern for truth is limited to its usefulness in his causes.

    Professor Chapman via his expertise recognises how important FRAMING the debate is, and his use of words and statistics is very manipulative.

    He frames others research as the work of a demonic ‘gun lobby’. His repeated ad hominem attacks on the work of Baker and McPhedran disregard the known personal integrity of those women.

    By emphasising suicides as ‘gun deaths’ several manipulative researchers counted their reduction for activist purposes, but disregarded the effects of massive injections of funding and effort in reducing suicides after suicides shot UP in 1997-1998.

    Andrew Leigh and Christine Neall in their unpublished paper held that lower total suicides after ten years meant that suicides were not substituted, but didn’t even check the literature to find the 1993 Queensland research that found a perfect negative correlation between a rise in hanging and the fall in gun suicides from 1997. Did Professor Chapman mention that research in his article? I see not.

    Professor Chapman also twists the truth in his claim that the gun laws were intended to prevent massacres. In fact, it was believed they COULD NOT prevent massacres, because only some guns could be removed and criminals can always get them. Instead, the gun laws would somehow ‘create a safer Australia’.

  • 2
    dermot
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    gun murders. the murder rate is close to static. It has been for 30 plus years.

  • 3
    fsilber
    Posted Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    You’re comparing completely different situations. In Australia, those semi-automatics were legally used only for sport — which was not too much to give up for increased safety. In America, urban shopkeepers in some neighborhoods must keep such guns on hand to defend their livelihoods against mobs of rioting looters and arsonists (e.g. Los Angeles in 1992). Firearms in general serve a much more important legitimate purpose in America than they do in Australia.

    Furthermore, in most American cities the vast majority of firearm murders have felonious gang members as the victims. Until we find some other way of ridding our society of such people, the elimination of firearms murder would actually do our society more harm than good. But the real reason is so people can defend their right to privacy in the home, their right not to be raped, and their right to freedom from unwarranted searches and seizures — rights which in our country police alone do not ensure.

  • 4
    Simon Chapman
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    As I stressed in the article, Howard’s reforms were introduced to try & reduce the incidence of mass shootings like Port Arthur. He & all the states didn’t come together and do what they did because of any crisis in the “routine” gun homicide rate (ie domestic and criminal shootings) nor because of the gun suicide rate. It was because of Port Arthur, which followed a spate of lesser scale gun massacres which remain so common in the US.

    A useful analogy here is if there had been a series of multi-fatality car/train level crossing smashes and governments took action to introduce automatic level crossing gates across the country, at great expense. The obvious way to evaluate the impact of this would be to look at the incidence in level crossing smashes, not to look at all car deaths whereever they occurred. If somehow there was a knock-on fall in overall road deaths, this would be a curious bonus.

    So with the 1996 reforms, the obvious outcome of interest is mass shootings, not all gun homicides, let alone all homicides. There have been no mass shootings since. The gun lobby can hardly complain about that, but they find it a very inconvenient truth.

  • 5
    dermot
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    teach them? nothing. they have had port Arthur several times over. As i found out in a n email debate with a pro gun us lawyer they point to our supposedly larger crime rate as the principal result of gun control.

  • 6
    Sarah Stokely
    Posted Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    @Alien You may notice I edited your comment. Whether it’s hyperbole or not, your comment about what should be done to Hawke was too violent to pass muster. Trying to keep the debate sane here.

  • 7
    Russell Edwards
    Posted Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    The gun laws have massive public and political support” .. classic perception management, there.. it’s as if you’d written a textbook on the topic. Oh hang on, you have. It goes quite well with the “creative epidemiology” you publicly advocate, i.e. deliberate misrepresentation of statistics for political purposes.

    The office of the attorney general estimated public support for the 1996 national firearms agreement at 60 per cent. That is not “massive”, it’s borderline. Considering the level of infringement of individual liberty at stake, it’s a rather poor show.

    And this straight after a horrendous gun massacre with massive amplification of emotions by the media and those seeking to cynically exploit the situation for tawdry political gain (John “I hate guns” Howard). No doubt the 60 percent figure was a maximum value, with it declining with time.

  • 8
    Russell Edwards
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Trish, your “tobacco industry hack” has written over 30 books on philosophy, culture and politics, none of which are on the topic of tobacco.

    http://www.roger-scruton.com/rs-books.html

    And the Cato Institute mainly focusses on libertarian ideas of limited government and individual freedom; yes, free markets are in there too.

    Out of interest what are your own credentials for making such outlandish claims?

  • 9
    John
    Posted Friday, 13 February 2009 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    QUOTE Gun lobby affiliated researchers in Australia have sought to repudiate these outcomes using embarrassingly naïve methods”

    Are you kidding? Your saying gun deaths are down in a country that bans them.

    Well no kidding! Thats like comparing surfing accidents in Hawaii to ones in Arizona.

    But how about OVERALL deaths? How about non-gun violence? How about crime in general?

    And the figures from America, it looks like they are pretty well skewed too. How many of those “gun deaths” were from crime? Suicides? Police shootings?

    And you have the guts to question the gun lobby’s methods & figures?!?!??! Get real!

  • 10
    Russell Edwards
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    Simon, it seems rather hypocritical of you to criticise Baker & McPhedran on the basis of not being specialist statisticians or criminologists. (Although for what it’s worth, we already know what one of Australia’s top crime statisticians thinks on the topic.) As professional research scientists with honours degrees and PhDs in science, they will each have considerable training and experience in statistics. In contrast, your own “training” is in the Humanities, and your PhD was on the topic of semiotics — what the rest of us would generously call semantics, or perhaps less generously, spin doctoring. What part of that, if anything, qualifies you to produce an objective analysis with sound statistical methodology?

    Yes, your most recent paper has a biostatistician as second author. So what about your paper with Philip Alpers. What is his training?

  • 11
    Bernard Keane
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Who cares if it was a Howard Government policy? The gun laws took guts on Howard’s part - remember the bullet-proof jacket he wore down in Gippsland? - and it worked. Credit where it’s due.

  • 12
    Simon Chapman
    Posted Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Dr Edwards, I mentioned McPhedran and Baker’s training backgrounds in response to ChrisPer’s comments about my alleged lack of expertise in the subject area. You comments about semiotics are unfortunately very ignorant. My PhD was on semiotics, but I wrote that in 1982. It is amusing to see you people trying to score childish goals by trawling back 26 years for your best shots. Some of us have actually moved on a bit, as you might learn from my CV.

    My Injury Prevention paper with Philip Alpers also had two other authors, both professional biostatisticians. Philip is an international authority on firearm policy, as recognised by his appointment at Harvard and now at the University of Sydney, and his constant use by global authorities as an expert advisor.

    I’m afraid I have more important things to do than continue this. The gun laws have massive public and political support. Most people understand that.

  • 13
    ChrisPer
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    My name and contact details are available on request, email thinkfocus@iinet.net.au

    http://www.class.org.au/ideas-kill.htm

    Bibliography
    Cantor C. 2001 Civil Massacres Ethological Perspectives. The ASCAP Bulletin Vol 2 No 1. 29-31.

    Cantor, Mullen and Alpers, 2000 Mass homicide: the civil massacre. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 28:1:55-63

    Cialdini, Robert 2001. Influence: Science and Practice 4th Ed. Allyn and Bacon, pp121-130.

    Cramer, C 1993. Ethical problems of mass murder coverage in the mass media. Journal of Mass Media Ethics 9.

    Hansen, Jane 1995. “Tassie Guns”, A Current Affair 2 Oct 1995, featuring Roland Browne and Rebecca Peters of the Coalition for Gun Control. Nine Network broadcast.

    Lovibond J. 1996. ‘Hobart gun death related to TV show’, Hobart Mercury, 21/05/1996, Ed: 1, Pg: 2, 511 words. Newstext

    Mullen, Paul quoted in Hannon K 1997, “Copycats to Blame for Massacres Says Expert”, Courier Mail, 4/3/1997

    Pinker, Stephen 1999. How the Mind Works, Norton and Company, 672 pp.

    Phillips, D. P. 1980. Airplane accidents, murder, and the mass media: Towards a theory of imitation and suggestion. Social Forces, 58, 1001-1024.

  • 14
    Dr Russell Edwards
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    What a joke, Mr Chapman.

    Gun lobby affiliated researchers in Australia have sought to repudiate these outcomes using embarrassingly naïve methods that have been heavily criticised in the research literature. “

    Heavily criticised” by whom? Only yourself, a well-known anti-gun lobby activist, heavily involved in pushing through the expensive, illiberal “reforms” you are now desperate to justify, against all the evidence. A single publication hardly counts as “the reasearch literature”. Never before have I seen a scientist, much less a professor, stoop to publishing reviewer comments on his website like some kind of marketing testimonials. The only other dissenter I am aware of is the unpublished work of ANU Associate Professor Andrew Leigh.

    Bias ought not to be an issue to the informed reader, and those uncomfortable with evaulating research on its merits can always place weight in the comments of independent experts, such as the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research head Don Weatherburn, who has stated in reference to the Baker & McPhedran works proving no or minimal effects from the gun laws that “although the authors of the study admit to being members of gun clubs, the study was well conducted and published in an internationally respected, peer-reviewed journal. It would be unfair to accuse the authors of “cooking the books” to achieve a certain result.”

    Nevertheless, it is hard to go past the latest work on the topic, which comes out of the prestigious (University of) Melbourne Institute from authors with known known affiliation to either side of the debate. The full paper is downloadable on their website. Here is an extract from the abstract: “we re-analyze the same data on firearm deaths used in previous research, using tests for unknown structural breaks as a means to identifying impacts of the NFA. The results of these tests suggest that the NFA did not have any large effects on reducing firearm homicide or suicide rates.”

  • 15
    ChrisPer
    Posted Friday, 12 September 2008 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    fsilber said: “You’re comparing completely different situations. In Australia, those semi-automatics were legally used only for sport — which was not too much to give up for increased safety.”

    Fsilber, lets look at it this way.
    1) Semi-automatic rifles were supposedly more dangerous.
    2) Many are happy to confiscate 350,000 other people’s sporting goods, family heirlooms, tools of trade and symbolic freedoms, and subject them to permanent bureaucratic interference, because it costs you nothing, and you dismiss their cost as something you don’t care about.
    3) Measuring the results after all these years shows NO measurable difference to overall .murder, suicide, accident or armed riobbery rates. They have not changed safety at all.
    4) Maybe the activists and journalists, and the politicians and concerned ordinary people.they manipulated, were wrong.

  • 16
    ChrisPer
    Posted Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Ted, it is extremely unlikely the AR15 got to Bryant through a criminal act by police. Rather, the Vic police legitimately sold it to a legitimate dealer, as is perfectly appropriate. Because that dealer was in Tasmania, it was not tracked. It may have passed through several legitimate owners. It appears, though it was not provable in court, that Martin Bryant bought it from a dealer who knew that Bryant had no shooters licence.

  • 17
    Pat
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Don’t you love it when Americans like Guy Smith try to set us straight with the facts on how wonderful guns are in making communities safer? Yeah, right Guy, we all look to the US as a national role model of peace and love. We just never hear stories about gun rampages over there. People don’t walk around in Australia packing heat, to defend themselves against crime. You guys are on an unending spiral of armed madness and have the gall to tell us to sit up and pay attention. Doesn’t the NRA even support sending kids to school armed?

  • 18
    ChrisPer
    Posted Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Simon,
    Even if you have taken your ball and gone home, I have gone back and read the source material on the objectives of the gun laws and I acknowledge that you are right that the objectives included reducing massacres. The language was ‘I don’t pretend for a minute that this will prevent all massacres’. Rather, it was to ‘prevent a US-like gun culture’ arising. It therefore remains to be explained how it reduced massacres to zero, when it was not thought capable of doing so. The answer is in the cutural environment. Activists and journalists stopped inciting loonies to murder.

    Interesting how the CULTURAL intervention is not being examined. The hate-filled disparagement of shooters by Trish and her mates above, and in more self-important words by yourself, gives the lie to your self-serving pretense that this was a rational intervention. The manipulation by you and your partners in the media to demonise our innocent sport was loaded with malice, as the excessive and personal language of you activists then and now proves.

    Interesting that although (as you point out) the protests at the time regarded movies as equally or more harmful, NO action has been taken to destroy the culture of American movie violence. And most interesting of all, the proven link between instruction by the news media and deaths of innocents has been ignored. Phillips 1980 forward - you assuredly know the research because its your speciality.

    The partnership between activists and news commentators to whip up hype over guns, exploiting mass murder for eyeballs on news screens, inadvertently caused Columbine, caused Cho, and almost certainly caused Port Arthur. And although its impossible to prove that single show by the NCGC caused Port Arthur, the Coroner found it taught one man how to get a gun and kill himself. That’s more deaths than I and my friends have caused, Simon.

  • 19
    Russell Edwards
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Trish, perhaps you would like to take up your simple-minded philosophical objections to hunting with famous philosopher Josè Ortega y Gasset (except he is dead)

    http://huntingbooks.com.au/meditations-on-hunting.html

    Not a fan of spaniards? Another influential philosopher, this one contemporary: Roger Scruton

    http://huntingbooks.com.au/hunting/philosophy-ethics/on-hunting.html

    Or is Women’s Studies more your philosophical bent? Ask Professor Mary Zeiss Stange about it then

    http://huntingbooks.com.au/hunting/philosophy-ethics/woman-the-hunter.html

    I don’t think you will find any of those educated hunters foaming at the mouth. While you are at it, ask yourself if the Cato Institute, sponsors of the recent High Court challenge to Washington DC handgun bans, was “fulfulling some pathetic rambo fantasy”.

  • 20
    Simon Chapman
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Dr Edwards, I’m a littled perplexed. You get all frothy about Andrew Leigh’s work being “unpublished”, but then in the next paragraph cite a newspaper quotation and in the one after that, a similarly “unpublished” report (ie not peer reviewed) report. All the Melbourne report shows if you read it carefully is that rates didn’t drop in one year; it took two years for them to halve. I just hope that if they do try to get it published in a peer reviewed that they (a) don’t — unlike McPhedran & Baker — totally avoid noting that the reforms were introduced in response to the massacre (and intended to reduce the probability of such massacres occurring again as I stress inmy earlier reply above) (b) send it to a journal with an impact factor suggestive of a high reputation (the British Journal of Criminology and Health Policy have very low impact factors of 1.296 and 1.141 respectively.) The fact that the McPhedran & Baker Health Policy paper got through peer review without its elementary problems not being spotted is yet another instance of how the peer review process is far from perfect. I should know — I’ve edited a specialist journal for the British Medical Journal for 17 years and as all editors know, reviews are often sub-standard.

  • 21
    Simon Chapman
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    ChrisPer is a regular critic of mine, but never with the courage to reveal his name as he wades yet again into his tedious claims. Many people know I was an active member of the Coalition for Gun Control in the mid 1990s (a decade ago). I don’t declare that past affiliation today as competing interests are customarily held to extinguish after 5 years. The CGC’s “extreme” agenda was adopted by every government in Australia, so I’ll leave the accuracy of that slur to others. Apparently I have only expertise in tobacco control “propaganda”, and not gun control matters — unlike McPhedran whose expertise (although I can find only one peer reviewed publication) is in vestibular science and Baker whose expertise is weed science). Chris, how is it that they have gun control expertise but not me and my biostatistical co-authors who came to my office with their jaws dropping at the elementary problems in the way M&B had done their analyses?

    Your insistence that the Howard reforms were not directed at reducing massacres is laughable. Did Howard mention suicides? Did he ban semi-autos because of lots of men were shooting their wives or neighbours with them? No, he banned them because they were they usual weapon of choice in massacres. And as our table shows (http://tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/site/supersite/contact/pdfs/2006_InjuryPrevent.pdf) the large majority of men who run amok with semi-autos had no criminal record or no hstory of mental illness. They with hitherto “law abiding gun owning citizens.”

  • 22
    Bea
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    What about the recent Melbourne Institute paper on gun laws? Why no comment on that?

    http://www.melbourneinstitute.com/wp/wp2008n17.pdf

    That seems to pretty conclusively show the buyback didn’t change trends in suicide or homicide.

  • 23
    ChrisPer
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Its worth noting, Trish and Mac W, that sneers are not facts, Your contempt for ordinary people who shoot are displays of ‘moral superiority’. Your opinions, like peacock tail feathers, display high status for the admiration of like-minded people.

    That is in my opinion the main motive for gun control activism in general and the 1996-1999 vilification of shooters in particular.

  • 24
    Ian Sutherland
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I don’t agree with Chapman’s point of view, but i support Chapman’s right to comment. I just wonder why he bothered, if it’s so successful.
    Or is this a desperate attempt to find just one policy from the Howard years that might not be a total & abject failure.

  • 25
    SMC
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I feel obliged to point out the deaths from tobacco each year. Ban guns that kill might be involved in a small number of deaths each year, but leave tobacco which kills 15,000 each year in australia alone….. How can people be so concerned about this small number of gun deaths…

  • 26
    Russell Edwards
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Mac W, no-one is arguing against regulation in principle. What is being asked for is, first of all, evidence-based policy, and secondly, for the interests of legitimate firearms owners to be taken seriously into consideration. At least three of your suggestions — registration, handgun bans and military style firearm bans — are of very doubtful value in terms of public health outcomes.

    Canada is in the process of dismantling its firearms registry after finding it an expensive failure. New Zealand, perhaps the closest to Australia culturally but with significantly higher firearms ownership rates and greater cultural acceptance of hunting as a legitimate activity, have no registration and yet enjoy similar or better violent crime rates than Australia.

    Handguns do have legitimate uses for target shooting and, although not recognised legally in Australia, hunting and personal protection against dangerous animals and human attackers.

    Military style rifles is a meaningless term — since when does the “style” of a firearm, i.e. its appearance, have anything to do with its potential for misuse?? And yet we see both in law and in common practice of Australian Customs, the banning or de facto banning of firearms purely on the basis of appearance.

    When it comes down to it, the entire idea of restricting access to certain classes of firearms is of very doubtful public safety value. Sure, a 20 mm automatic cannon or a grenade launcher is obviously potentially more dangerous than a sporting rifle. However, the difference between a handgun or a longarm, a semi-automatic or a pump action or a lever action or a bolt action or a single shot — these are largely negligible.

    This practice, in my view, has always known to gun control advocates and politicians to be of no public safety value. It has a simplistic appeal to the general public, hence its adoption by NCGC and ultimately John Howard (twice), as a means to the end of a complete ban (NCGC) or reelection (JWH).

  • 27
    Simon Chapman
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Chris, your eccentric (and cause-serving) theory that the Coalition for Gun Control caused Martin Bryant to commit his attrocities is a real beauty. There are a few problems. Let’s take a small one: The last time I looked, there were one or two movies that have been screened in the last few decades that show actors in roles you may well admire, firing off the odd round or two in the direction of people who …well .. die, often rather horribly. Bryant, if I recall, had a big violent video stash. So I’m sure many people will be as intrigued as I am about your line of reasoning here. How is it that it never entered his head to get such a gun — as easily as they could be obtained in Tamania then — after his long diet of gun violence in movies, but just one current affairs program with a Greenpeace activist, no less, can turn him into a monster? And of course, you know that he actually saw that program too, I’m sure.

    I guess the corollary of your argument is that because news coverage is all-powerful, that we should try to get the media to stop publicising all those rather embarrassing stories from the US about gun massacres? Perhaps you think they should be covered up because they might put ideas into the wrong heads? Maybe one idea that gets into people’s minds on seeing them is “why do we allow citizens to have access to such weaponry?” Perish that thought,eh?

  • 28
    Greg
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    As always Mr Chapman allows his personal biases to cloud the facts. The research undertaken by Baker and McPhedran has been validated in a peer reviewed international journal, and has now been reproduced in an independant discussion paper from Melbourne University’s “Melbourne Institute”.

    The evidence is growing that Mr Howards 1996 “buy back” was not a step forward in public safety as proclaimed, it has not saved lives, but that it was a monumental waste of public monies that could better have been used policing criminals, treating the mentally ill and addressing the growing social issues contributing to violent behaviour.

  • 29
    Trish
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Russ, I just googled Roger Scruton and it seems he’s a little more than a “grimy hack for the tobacco industry” (see http://www.ash.org.uk/ash_ye6i432k.htm). And the Cato Institute is nothing but a let-industry-rip- and-bugger-the-consequences “think tank” (if that’s not an oxymoron). You certainly know how to pick ‘em. And just sort of furry critters do you miss terrorising with your confiscated guns, might I be bold enough to ask? Or are you a family defendin’ sort of guy?

  • 30
    Ted O'Brien
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    The type of weapon used by Martin Bryant was not permitted in NSW except for genuine pest control until the 1980s. In NSW also “concealable” weapons, mostly pistols, were always subject to heavy restrictions.

    Then the Hawke government for some obscure reason permitted the importation of large numbers of military type self loading high powered rifles from China, and these were made available for open sale in NSW.

    We must hope that these acts of government had no connection with a call at about that time by a mad union leader in Sydney’s “Hungry Mile” to his members “to arm themselves for the coming conflict”.

    It was one of these very weapons which Wade Frankum used for the Strathfield Massacre.

  • 31
    Alien
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Crikey so what if Howard’s political motivations are suspicious just the fact that there are less of these guns in Australia is a good thing and reduces the likelihood of an increase of such guns getting into the hands of criminals or deranged people. Whether or not this shows up in statistics at the moment doesn’t deny this likelihood. If one life is saved then it is worth it even if this doesn’t show up on stats.

    Personally I think all guns should be banned but for military police and licensed hunters anyone seen with a gun should immediately surrender or be shot on sight.

  • 32
    eddieD
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Howards gun buyback went after semi-auto 12ga shotguns and semi-auto .22 rimfire rifles which made up 80% of the buyback take.. Australia is unique in the world to have outlawed those two types as even post Dunblane Britain did not outlaw semi-auto 12ga shotguns or semi-auto .22 rimfire rifles. Pump action shotguns were also banned but today in Australia you can still buy pump action rifles, both rimfire and centrefire. The whole buyback was a feel good with a $500,000,000 price tag.
    The rifles used by Bryant in 1996 could only be purchased in two states Qld and Tassie.
    Shooting is as popular in Australia as ever but the gun laws are ridiculous.
    Using Australia as an example it is no wonder no other firstw orld country has bothered spending half a billion buying back semi and pump shotguns as well as .22 rimfires, if anything we are a laughing stock.

  • 33
    Ted O'Brien
    Posted Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    In all of this comment I have seen no recognition of the fact that prior to the Port Arthur massacre New South Wales already had considered, effective firearms legislation. Tasmania did not.

    Then there is the single, uncontested report that the particular firearm which Martin Bryant used was in the marketplace as the result of a criminal act by someone in the Victorian police force.

  • 34
    Steve Martin
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    ’ While the rate of firearm homicide was reducing in Australia by an average of 3% per year prior to the law reforms, this more than doubled to 7.5% per year after the introduction of the new laws”
    I have no doubt that the statistics quoted by Simon Chapman are correct, but I can’t help wondering what the statistics have to say about knife murders, and other forms of murder before and after the new gun laws.
    In other words has the murder rate actually falllen or is it only gun murders?

  • 35
    Guy Smith
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Chapman pulls the tired canard of using “gun” violence trending numbers instead of total violent crime rates. Society is interested in the likelihood of being killed or injured regardless of the means.

    Anyone interested in real information instead of Mr. Chapman’s political subterfuge can find see my 10+ years in gun policy research at http://www.GunFacts.info. This includes some relevant information on Australia and New Zealand.

  • 36
    Mac W
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    The interests of ‘ordinary people that shoot’ are not being questioned. True, shooting isn’t my idea of a fun weekend, but I have no problem with those who enjoy it - within the boundaries of the law and reason. This is the key.

    What I and the rest of my ‘morally superior’, ‘peacock tailed’ colleagues want is for such shooting activity to be regulated and controlled to the point where those who aren’t keen on a good-old-shoot, are in no threat of catching a bullet.

    That is why we advocate registration, background checks, licensing, safe storage etc etc. and why, most importantly, we BAN all use of handguns and military-style weapons - weapons which have no use other than to shoot as many PEOPLE as quickly and effectively as possible. If you’re an ‘ordinary person that shoot[s]’ then you will surely empathize with how unnecessary military style weapons are.

  • 37
    John
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    The implication of this article is that the overall number of suicides dropped significantly because of Howard’s gun laws. That is no not though is it, because following the gun laws, suicide by guns might have dropped but these people most likely chose another, probably more successful method such as hanging. Where is the evidence that there was a sustained reduction in the reduction in the overall number of suicides because of Howard’s laws? The Professor is implying that guns are the cause of suicide whereas they are not. Might as well ban rope, ironing cords and the like because many more suicides hang themselves.

    Does it really matter what instrument the victim uses? Shouldn’t the concern be why is the person feels there is no other resolution and how he/she has fallen through the net of available assistance?

  • 38
    Mac W
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    To those who have criticized the suicide research, may I suggest you actually READ the NEJM article (http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/359/10/989), which states that 24% of attempted suicides were impulse actions decided and acted upon in less than 5 minutes, 70% of those in less than an hour and 90% of those failed attempters do not go on to die from suicide. These were the lucky ones. Surely, if you remove the guns, you remove people’s easy access to suicide. Presumably, it’s easy to pull a trigger with immediate, irreversible results, but far harder to motivate (if that’s the right word?) oneself to step off a high edge, hang up a noose, or swallow 100 pills – all of which allow time for reflection. Bullets don’t.

    The same can be argued for homicides and accidental death. Remove the guns, and you remove the easy access of hot-headed impulse murders. Remove the guns, and you remove the chance of accidentally discharging a bullet into an innocent bystander (as seen in last week’s Port Macquarie tragedy: http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/owners-of-pistol-that-killed-teen-arrested/2008/09/04/1220121430195.html).

    Full credit to Trish who highlights the ‘pathetic rambo fantasy’ inherent in those men who through insane reasoning, believe the presence of some military-style weapon guarantees them some added sense of security. Newsflash guys: your ‘increased security’ is only guaranteed if you’re the only one with the weapon – you’re not!; but just keep using this MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) mentality if it makes you feel more ‘manly’.

    And to those who believe that gun laws will never have an affect because ‘real criminals will still get hold of them’, yeah you’re right - hey you know what, there will always be rape and child abuse so lets make that as easy to commit as well - while we’re at it!

  • 39
    Ted O'Brien
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Nobody can deny that the Port Arthur massacre was a terrible event. But the Howard government’s reaction was to promote public hysteria and paranoia, and to set decent citizens against decent citizens against each other in that scene of paranoia and hysteria. All firearms users were vilified as if they were potential murderers.

    That is fascism, pure and simple. And inexcusable.

    Tasmania had awfully lax gun laws. The mainland states, after their own experience with such tragedies, had already put reasonable, sensible and effective legislation in place. Despite all this, a report that the firearm which Martin Bryant used had been previously handed in to Victorian police, which tells us that the firearm was then stolen by police and resold, was never denied.

    Had Martin Bryant gone to trial this and other information exceedingly embarrassing for the Howard government, the Tasmanian government, the Victorian government and police would have come to light. However a lawyer with Liberal Party connections persuaded Martin Bryant to plead guilty. This allowed these things to be swept under the carpet.

    There are many reasons more than one why April 28th 1996 is a very black day in Australia’s history.

    Never forget, the promotion by government of public hysteria and paranoia, and the setting of decent citizens against decent citizens for a political purpose is fascism.

  • 40
    Peter Cunningham
    Posted Saturday, 13 September 2008 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    INTERESTING - After all the years nothing has changed.
    A truly independent research body investigates ( http://www.melbourneinstitute.com/wp/wp2008n17.pdf ) data since 1914 and finds nil tangible change following the promises made by John Howard, the various Police Ministers and Commissioners in their orgy of public manipulation.
    * Simon Chapman continues making a livelihood out of fear - even on this forum he continues.
    * Alpers (and his grand self anointed title “Adjunct Associate Professor”) does likewise.
    * People hate guns.
    * Other people enjoy using firearms properly.
    * Crime continues.
    * Suicides continue.
    * Nothing has changed because nothing can change.

    The reasons are practical politics, personal prejudice, personal vested interest and of course - money.
    Best summed up by H.L. Mencken 1923:
    Hobgoblins: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
    It is more convenient to create a demon and be seen destroying it, than delve into the root causes as to why people resort to suicide, or crime. Those answers are societal, and in which law and human nature play vital rolls.
    So, whilstever people have ‘ass-holes’, then so too will division and problems continue.
    PC

  • 41
    Trish
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Isn’t the spectacle truly heart-wrenching of all these gun lovers still blubbing away 12 years after losing their precious rights to own rapid fire guns? Let’s not mince words here .. these people’s on-going obsession is with mourning the loss of their ability to own guns that can spray bullets around, fulfilling some pathetic rambo fantasy they have about defending their homes from invading hoardes, or in true sportsman-like fashion, blasting the bejesus out of some defenceless animal to bolster their inadequate egos. If you want to study the mentality, check in to http://www.synect.com/forum/index.html

  • 42
    Simon Chapman
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Tree hugger & John — did you actually read the data on total suicides & gun suicides pre/post Port Arthur before writing your comments? You can look at it here http://tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/site/supersite/contact/pdfs/2006_InjuryPrevent.pdf I don”t mind responding to informed comment, but until we agree what the data are — and I cite official sources — there’s not much point in debating whether substitution (to other methods of suicide) occurred. If you disagree with the data shown on suicide, what are your sources?

  • 43
    tree hugger
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Howards buy back was the biggest waste of public money for no benefit there has ever been. The anti-gun crowd will never admit this but there is no way that the buy back helped in any way. Bryant bought his gun illegaly and never had a gun lisence. It would have been much more effective spending the $500,000,000, thats right half a billion dollars on police resources targeting illegay owned wepons and public health resources. Suicides with guns have dropped but that is only due to other methods being used. Suicide is caused by mental health problems and gun law never improved mental health. Criminals now have just as many or more guns than before Howard took guns off law abiding citizens.

  • 44
    Man from Ironbark
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    On Tuesday, 9 September 2008 3:57:43 PM Simon Chapman stated:
    “So with the 1996 reforms, the obvious outcome of interest is mass shootings, not all gun homicides, let alone all homicides. There have been no mass shootings since.”

    Simon Chapman needs to explain why In that same time period New Zealand did not have any mass shootings.

    New Zeland apparently has a licencing category for military semi-automatics for civilian shooters and has not had longarm registration since the 1980s.

    This strongly suggests that there is another factor at work in both Australia and New Zeland which has resulted in no mass shootings occurring since 1997 which has nothing to do with the licenced possession of semi-automatics.

  • 45
    ChrisPer
    Posted Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Simon, it is indeed generous of you to respond to me again.

    I have used my usual Internet name, which you recognise from Andrew Leigh’s comments thread. I recall an exchange with my real name a few years back wherein you noted that you had a good friend who was a target shooter and supported the new gun laws. I recall you going very quiet when I asked it it was Phillip Alpers.

    For those who don’t know, Associate Professor Alpers went to a target shooting club to conduct an activist stunt. There he deliberately contravened safety rules, recklessly firing shots in two separate incidents after the range officer had commanded to cease firing and clear the rifle.

    Professor Chapman, with your expertise in influence and the role of media in persuading the weak-minded to take harmful courses of action like smoking, have you read the references in my article from a few years ago? You know that authors INCLUDING Associate Professor Alpers showed that the massacres in Australia were media-influenced copycat crimes.

    Six months before the Port Arthur massacre, the NCGC acting with a current affairs program gave Tasmanians detailed instruction in how to obtain assault rifles illegally. A Greenpeace activist showed us on TV how to load and use the rifles, then blew apart a melon like the head of a victim.

    According to police interviews, Martin Bryant bought that AR15 assault rifle illegally five months before the massacre. That places it within two to four weeks after the program, but that is only suggestive. The proof that program did harm is in a man who travelled from Melbourne, followed the instructions of the program and blew his own head off. Refs in http://www.class.org.au/ideas-kill.htm .

    It took the hype over Dunblane to actually trigger Bryant’s copycat crime. The NCGC was there capitalising with activism, just as taught by you.

    Simon, explain for the readers please: in the media-influence copycat model why would massacres have stopped?

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