The gun control debate continues to simmer, with a new study before Christmas (oddly headed by The Australian with “From correspondents in Paris”, apparently because it’s an AFP (Agence France-Presse) story) claiming that the Howard government’s gun buyback had “sharply reduced the number of overall firearms deaths”.

Even if this is true (it contradicts an earlier study), it’s of doubtful relevance to the debate, since opponents of gun control have claimed that banning guns would increase crime overall (due to the loss of deterrence), not specifically gun-related crime. Just counting gun deaths doesn’t address this claim at all.

But the debate moved on to a new front at the weekend when NSW police minister John Watkins called for “tougher import regulations for replica and toy weapons and uniform laws to prevent them crossing state borders.”

Somehow NSW lawmakers have got the idea that fake guns are just as dangerous as real ones: according to the report, they are “mostly illegal in NSW and their use in crime carried the same penalties as using real weapons”.

A representative of the Firearms Crimes Squad backed this by saying “It’s pretty difficult to tell the difference between a fake gun and a real gun”. Well, until you get shot by one, that is.

If you’re a bank, for example, worried about protecting your money from robbers, it makes no difference whether the gun being used is real or fake. If you’re a bank teller, worried about getting shot, it makes a huge difference.

Clearly there are good reasons for some controls on fake guns. But to put them on the same footing as the real thing is to admit that gun control isn’t about protecting people, but about protecting property.

The law already gives us enough reasons to worry that that’s its real priority; Mr Watkins is just adding another.

Peter Fray

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