SHOOTINGS -- MATTERS ARISING 2
I've been reading some more opinions on US gun control and have decided it reinforces a point I made earlier: that in any wider debate on gun control, Americans have nothing useful to add. This does not mean, as William Burton suggests
, that I think they have nothing useful to say about gun control in their own country. What I suggested was that the circumstances in the US are such that the toothpaste probably cannot be put back into the tube. Guns outnumber people; there is a well-organised and well-funded lobby industry aimed at promoting gun use; there is an (arguable) constitutional right to bear arms: it all adds up to being damn close to the point of no return, where serious reform is probably impossible. This, however, is not an argument in favour of gun ownership as William basically suggests. It's not an argument at all. It's just an admission of defeat.
Consequently, the arguments sensible people like William put forward within in this context sound faintly ridiculous to someone who has experienced an alternative context and knows that, in some countries if not the US, gun control can work pretty well.
Australia is held up by the likes the NRA
as part of their "slippery slope" argument; of a country where the government has "disarmed" the civilian population. This is nonsense. In the wake of one of the few mass killings
in contemporary Australian history, the "civilian population" demanded that government do something about the number of guns in the community. Unlike successive US governments, the Australian government (of a persuasion I oppose) responded
with stricter laws, a temporary tax to fund a gun buy-back scheme and the actual buying back of guns:
In the 1996-97 Australian gun buy-back, two-thirds of a million semi-automatic and pump-action rifles and shotguns were sold to the government at market value. Thousands more gun owners volunteered their firearms for free, and nearly 700,000 guns were destroyed....By destroying one-seventh of its estimated stock of firearms (the equivalent figure in the USA would be 30 million), Australia has significantly altered the composition of its civilian arsenal....In addition, all remaining guns must be individually registered to their licensed owners, private firearm sales are no longer permitted and each gun purchase through a licensed arms dealer is scrutinised by police to establish a "genuine reason" for ownership. Possession of guns for self-defence is specifically prohibited, and very few civilians are permitted to own a handgun. All the nation's governments, police forces and police unions support the current gun laws.
See, under other circumstances, it can be done. Not only were people NOT outraged, worried about their freedom being impinged, or concerned about out-of-control "big government", they were well pleased. Government, being the institutional will of the people, had not shown itself to be a tyrannical threat to the citizens but had done precisely what it is was meant to do, reflect the will of the vast majority of the people.
And it had the desired effect
There was a decrease of almost 30% in the number of homicides by firearms from 1997 to 1998."
Australian Crime - Facts and Figures 1999. Australian Institute of Criminology
. Canberra, Oct 1999
This report shows that as gun ownership has been progressively restricted since 1915, Australia's firearm homicide rate per 100,000 population has declined to almost half its 85-year average.
The overall rate of homicide in Australia has also dropped to its lowest point since 1989 (National Homicide Monitoring Program, 1997-98 data). It remains one-fourth the homicide rate in the USA....The Institute of Criminology report Australian Crime - Facts and Figures 1999 includes 1998 homicide data showing "a 9% decrease from the rate in 1997." This is the period in which most of the country's new gun laws came into force.
The Australian rate of gun death per 100,000 population remains one-fifth that of the United States...."We have observed a decline in firearm-related death rates (essentially in firearm-related suicides) in most jurisdictions in Australia. We have also seen a declining trend in the percentage of robberies involving the use of firearms in Australia."
Mouzos, J. Firearm-related Violence: The Impact of the Nationwide Agreement on Firearms. Trends & Issues in Crime & Criminal Justice
No. 116. Australian Institute of Criminology. Canberra, May 1999; 6
Those who claim that Australia suffered a "crime wave" as a result of new gun laws often cite as evidence unrelated figures for common assault or sexual assault (no weapon) and armed robbery (any weapon). In fact less than one in five Australian armed robberies involve a firearm...."Although armed robberies increased by nearly 20%, the number of armed robberies involving a firearm decreased to a six-year low."...Recorded Crime, Australia, 1998. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Jun 1999
"A declining firearm suicide rate, a declining firearm assault rate, a stable firearm robbery rate with a declining proportion of robberies committed with a firearm and a declining proportion of damage to property offences committed with a firearm suggest that firearm regulation has been successful in Tasmania."...Warner, Prof K. Firearm Deaths and Firearm Crime After Gun Licensing in Tasmania. Australian Institute of Criminology, 3rd National Outlook Symposium on Crime in Australia. Canberra, 22-23 Mar 1999.
It even helped to get the government re-elected.
Of course, the results are not perfect, nor is Australia some sort of crime-free nirvana - far from it. But it is an example of what can be done before too much toothpaste leaves the tube. Personally, I have no problem with gun ownership per se
, and I've no intention to teach Americans how to suck eggs, but maybe the example can show that majority
of Americans who are in favour of much stricter gun control that there is perhaps an alternative, despite all the well-rehearsed arguments about slippery slopes and thin ends of wedges.
If the argument is about personal freedom, I reckon mine is enhanced by being less likely to be shot--accidentally or on purpose--than by letting ever-more people arm themselves. And if the NRA wants to hold Australia up as an example of what can happen when you have gun control, then let them at least tell the truth, not spread lies
. And the truth is, people wanted gun control; people got it; and it works.