Saturday, 7 April 2012

Gun Regulation in Australia

A recent news article in a Sydney newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, made the assertion that gun regulation had failed, leaving guns in the hands of only the criminals. 

By way of background, for those unfamiliar with Australia’s gun laws, guns are tightly regulated here. In the late 90s, following a gun massacre, stricter regulation was brought into effect. Semi-automatic weapons and pump-action shotguns were banned and a strict registration and licensing regime was introduced. Australians do not, and never did have, the right to bear arms, nor did they carry guns with the same frequency, as citizens of the United States do. 85% of the population supported the new gun control laws.

So at the time, the fear was the new gun laws would place guns in the hands of criminals and take them away from citizens (forgetting, for the most part, citizens didn’t have them to start with). And now some ass wanted to assert this was what had actually happened. 

I had a number of gut reactions to this, one being criminals with guns seem to more often shoot each other with them than citizens. While this might be undesirable it is, arguably, better than, say, bullied school students taking guns to school and randomly shooting students and teachers. For the most part, tight gun regulation has put guns beyond the reach of such people. 

But let’s take a more objective look at the statistics. This was prompted, in part, by a conversation with an American Tweep of mine, who was surprised by Australia’s homicide rate. I told him it was only a few hundred a year. 

‘That’s just your gun deaths?’ he asks. 

‘No, that’s the total homicide rate. Across the whole country.’

He was shocked. Not in a bad way, but it says something about America’s homicide rate that he found this number staggeringly low. Now I do, of course, realise Australia has a much smaller population than the US, so I did some research to do a proper comparison. 

In 2010, Australia had 190 attempted murders and 229 actual murders. Of these, 140 (73%) and 154 (67%) respectively involved a weapon (not necessarily a gun). For a comparison that takes into account population figures, the homicide rate in America is 5.5 people per 100,000. In Australia, it’s 1.34, or one quarter the rate. That’s significantly lower.

Funny... this doesn't seem to be the actual outcome
In Australia, a knife was used in 33% of murders and 28% of attempted murders. It was the most common weapon, so it beat out guns. In fact, a gun was used in less than 20% of murders and less than 25% of attempted murders. 

So murders do occur without guns, and you might be tempted to say murder will happen with or without access to guns. Which it will. But accessibility to guns affects the ease of murder. Consider this – 84% of people shot to the heart will die, but only 30% of people stabbed in the heart. So if someone is going to try and kill me, I think I’d rather it was a knife than a gun. 

In America, 68% of homicides are gun deaths. So not only is their overall homicide rate much higher, but their gun deaths are higher. The gun homicide rate is 3.7, which is itself 3 times our total homicide rate. Our gun homicide rate is around 0.27. That’s a big difference. In America, you are 13 times more likely to be killed with a gun than in Australia. And someone is trying to tell me that has nothing whatsoever to do with the differences in gun laws?

Also in support of our gun laws, Australia’s homicide rate had a dip right after the gun buyback, and then has remained steady. However, armed robberies involving guns has been steadily falling, so even some criminals don’t have access to these weapons. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the criminal element involved in organised crime has better access to illegal weaponry than petty criminals.

Given that America’s gun death rate is 3.7, compared to our 0.27, you can see a large part of the difference (not all, but a large part) between Australia's and America's overall homicide rates is attributable to the increased gun death rate, which has to be at least partly attributable to the accessibility of guns. 
I’m sorry, which part of this tells you our gun laws have been a failure?

This is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge Series. If you missed the previous posts, you can find them here - A, B, C, D, E and F.

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Author’s Note: America has been used as a comparison only because of the discussion I had with a citizen of that country who expressed surprise at our statistics. 

Sources used:


Sylvia said...

We've had similar issues in America. The truth is, there will always be guns available to those who want them bad enough.

New follower here. I’m enjoying reading my fellow “A to Z”ers. I look forward to visiting again.


Jenny said...

you'll never see it pass as a law. not while there is someone in the government profiting off the sale of illegal firearms. & believe me someone is!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Of course, but it is possible to limit access to those who don't want them that bad but who still might do terrible things with them if they are easily accessible. Thanks for stopping by, it's a pleasure to meet you.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I'm sorry to hear that is the case. Our laws here were revolutionised after the Port Arthur gun massacre, plus Australia always had a very different culture when it came to guns.

AtoZChallenge said...

I support strict gun control, no matter what country, so lunatics and disturbed teenagers can't get access to them. But I can't say that to Americans :)
---Damyanti, Co-host A to Z Challenge April 2012

Twitter: @AprilA2Z

Sonia Lal said...

I wish the right to bear arms wasn't one of the of the american rights, but it is what it is. Wish gun control was stricter here.

Sonia Lal, A to Z challenge

Ciara Ballintyne said...

No, but you can say it to me ;-) I agree, criminals are likely to always have access to such weapons, but it is better if crazy people and disturbed teenagers don't!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

It is what it is, but there's what it is and then there's what it should be. Change is always possible, even if it is difficult.

Personally I've always enjoyed The Simpsons' interpretation of the right to bear arms ;-)

Bradley G. Needham said...

It is interesting to note the the overall crime rate in Australia is higher than that of the United States. the picture might have some truth to after all.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

There would be a number of interacting factors. Not all crimes have an element of violence e.g. break and enter on empty homes, substance abuse (as opposed to trafficking), crimes for which weaponry bears no significance, and therefore which may not be influenced by gun laws. Such crimes are likely to be affected by other factors. It is true that this may also apply to violent crimes, so the comparison across countries is quite difficult, which is why I also included how Australia's rates changed after introduction of the gun laws, because that is reflective of the impact of the laws.

I do understand the US had some success with zero-tolerance policing in some jurisdictions, resulting in significant drops in crime. We don't have zero-tolerance policing and I think there is an argument we should. I also think there is a problem with sentencing here.

I expect both jurisdictions have desirable aspects.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Out of interest, I looked into this a little more. Some of the areas where Australia far outstrips the US are bribes, software piracy and suicide, crimes which, for the most part, would be unaffected by gun laws. Violent crimes where Australia outstripped the US did so by only a small margin. This was based on the information readily available - it can be difficult to compare data because not all countries collect or publish stats annually.

Tom Stronach said...

The problem is that some folk who breathe, believe that because they do, breathe, and it's free (just) then they should be able to have everything else free including access to things that are clearly dangerous to others in the hands of people who might breathe, but who are idiots, if that makes sense?

But I'm sure you get my point...

A good piece

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I know what you mean. People think they should be entitled to everything, irrespective of the consequences. Actually, I think 'entitled' is a good word in this context.

Amberr Meadows said...

Hell, I need to move to Australia. I don't own a gun at the moment, so I'd blend in just fine. That homicide rate makes your country look very appealing to paranoid moms like me.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

We have lots to recommend us! I'm biased, so my opinion doesn't count much, but plenty of immigrants say Australia is the lucky country, and quite a few of them ought to know.

Mmessina_author said...

On that note; comparing America and Australia is really like comparing apples and couches. Sure, they're both made of atoms and molecules...

The reality is that they are both under grossly different geopolitical circumstances. For instance, I'm pretty sure you don't have to worry about bloods, crips, or MS13 in your neck of the woods. There's something to be said about being geographically isolated. Moreover, your people have made the decision that they want gun control. Kudos to them. That's their choice and they got what they asked for. In America, we have our own choices, for our own reasons. I'm glad your homicide rates are incredibly low. However your rape and serious violent crime levels beg the question - at what point is the victim allowed to offer up their own defense? In America we have hundreds of thousands of defensive firearm usages every year. This includes brandishing, warning shots, and of course actual shootings.

Again though, this is like comparing couches to apples. You all have your own set of circumstances and at this point in time, firearms are not a big concern for you. That situation may change in the future, for instance if you suddenly have a flood of illegal immigrants bringing street wars and flooding your neighborhoods with cocaine/heroin nationwide. I for one, live in the 7th most dangerous city in the USA right now and carry a firearm defensively. I've also taken courses to know how to do so safely. It's all about political, national, and local culture. Our culture includes guns. Yours doesn't. Our geography gives us cause to worry about the 3 million gang members in our midst. Yours doesn't.

If gun control works for you, awesome. Just have a secondary backup plan for the zombie apocalypse. Because when that zombie-retrovirus hits all you're going to have is sticks and stones :)

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Yes of course there are some differences. I did say I wasn't comparing to America as a judgement on America, only because it was an American who expressed surprise to me about our homicide rate. And yes geographical isolation does help our success, although I don't think that's an excuse for not making the attempt.

And I never said America doesn't have the right to make their own choices. I did not criticise the right to bear arms (although I admit to being entertained by The Simpsons episode which makes fun of it, a crime I expect thousands are guilty of) although some of the responses to this post suggest there are Americans who don't agree with the right to bear arms and who feel they aren't allowed to express that opinion in their culture. I defer to them to fight the battle as it's their backyard, and not mine, although it's disappointing some of them seem to feel they aren't allowed to express this opinion.

Yes, our rape level is higher, but by about 0.4%. Rapes are typically carried out with knives more the guns anyway (or with no weapon) so they aren't really affected by gun control, and the same is true for assaults (also note our culture of 'getting it on' in a pub brawl means not all assaults are 'serious'). It's fair to say citizens should be able to offer up their own defence, but is it an equal trade off when this means you have crazies shooting up the neigbourhood? I'm not sure about that, and neither are some of the American commenters on this blog. I should also note that I have never been the victim of violent crime nor do I know anyone who has been. It might be higher than America, but it's hardly so prevalent in Australia as to justify arming the citizens.

As you've said you have taken a number of gun courses, you are obviously a responsible gun carrying citizen. The problem is the ones who aren't....

Tonya Cannariato said...

Thank you! I really appreciate the thoughtful way you've laid out these statistics (which, by their nature, are slippery beasts). The more useful parallel to the US is Canada, which has gun laws more in line with Australia's, if I'm reading this correctly--and where your statistics are borne out again (i.e. fewer guns in the general population=fewer violent crimes). The problem as I perceive it is that Americans are so much more fear-addicted than most other industrialized nations, we use that as justification to continually one-up our protective measures... ending in madness like what we witnessed in Waco and Ruby Ridge. The fact that so many US states have standing militia groups ( to me, should be as scary as any gangland activity that seems to be part of the excuse for arming.

(I was predisposed to like you because of Dionne's commendation, but this really put the cherry on the Sundae. )
Thanks, again! :)

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks! Canada would probably be a more useful comparison to America, agreed. Unfortunately there probably isn't anywhere that would be a good comparison for Australia.

I haven't been to America, but from the people I know there, I am inclined to agree there is more fear. s one other commenter pointed out, rape stats in Australia are higher (although 0.4% isn't really significant) but I don't live in fear of being raped. It's never even crossed my mind. OK, I have a sword under my bed, but I bought that for a costume party. Honest. It just happens to double as a home invader pacifier ;-) It definitely doesn't fit in my purse though LOL

I think it's a valid point that militia groups are as scary as gangs. They are a foreign concept to me, and I certainly find them scary. I think violence breeds more violence, it doesn't end it. When I travelled overseas, I found the sheer number of guns around made me jumpy, even though they were in the hands of law enforcement! They certainly didn't make me feel safer. They made me worry about what was going on that guns were needed for protection because we don't need them at home, together with fears of being shot by mistake or caught in the crossfire.

Awww, thanks for being predisposed to like me ;-) Thanks Dionne, too!

Tonya Cannariato said...

An unrelated search today brought me to where I found the Epidemiology listing... Don't think I'll be visiting Colombia any time soon, but that article also pointed out that the US has one of the highest murder rates of any developed country. And Canada has about 1/10th the murder rate we do.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Yes, my husband stumbled across that while looking up something, I don't recall what. Sure, there are places where the homicide rate is worse, but I think you've hit on the key point - many of those places are not developed countries. I realise the US has its own culture which has led to the proliferation of guns, but I think the high murder rate at least raises some questions about 'why is this so?'

Jimmy Dean said...

Just a slight misinformation here,, Semi-Auto and pump action FIREARMS,,have NOT been banned, However, you require a Category C and D class Firearms Licence to own and use Semi Auto and pump action Shotguns, and Semi Auto Rifles, Some states have slightly different interpretations on what THEY regard as to what falls into certain categories, But essentially you can still have them provided you have the right excuse that is deemed Lawful!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Indeed, I did not break it down into the legal categories. Category C guns are semiautomatic rimfire weapons holding less than 10 rounds and pump action shotguns holding less than 5 rounds. As this is generally not what the average person thinks of when discussing automatic and semi-automatic weapons, I did not bother to mention this slight exemption (with good excuse only). Generally these weapons are still limited to primary producers (farmers), people whose jobs involve shooting of some kind, certain collectors and some clay target shooters. This is a VERY limited category with tight restrictions. While certainly they exist, it's not what the majority of the public is concerned with.

Andre Ribeiro Gil Sanchez said...

The fact you think rape isn't affected by gun laws because it's done with a knife shows how biased your thinking is in favor of gun laws.

Beheading is done with a knife too, but if you have a gun, you can do something about the guy next to you being beheaded instead of filming the murderer's post-beheading speech. Armed potential rape victims can attempt to protect themselves and the mere possibility that the victim, or someone that might come to the victim's defense may be armed, means rapists have reason to think twice. Or die in the attempt and not become repeat offenders.

Brazil made gun laws stricter, murder rates went down but rape tripled and you hear about robbers burning people alive for not having enough money in their bank account and if you happen to be lucky, you'll just have to deal with bi-weekly mass robberies in restaurants and bars of major cities. Success? Sure, if all you care about is the number of years people live and not the quality of those years.

The murder rate in the US is driven by gang violence and other cultural factors, not gun laws. New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa, Idaho and North Dakota all have murder rates at 1.3 and lower and have some of the freest gun laws in the country. DC has some of the most restrictive, and it has a murder rate of 20.

The case for not restricting guns in the United States isn't really one of how to better manage crime rates but one of basic freedoms. Americans believe they have a right to eat crappy food; there is no point telling them crappy food is bad for their health because that is not the point. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, maybe it is but it's worth it, but at the end of the day the point is that they don't want to be domesticated by an elite.

Undomesticated animals are indeed more violent, the murder rate between wild dogs is much higher than between pet dogs. But in the wild you can go pee without having a leash around your neck. Everybody dies. Not everybody lives in freedom.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I believe you missed the point. What I was saying is that criminals don't use guns to commit rape, and therefore tightening gun laws would not affect the incidence of criminals committing that crime. Since the gun laws that we imposed was the banning of automatic weapons, it also wouldn't affect a victim's ability to protect themselves, as I doubt women are in the habit of carrying automatic weapons for self-defence - certainly they were never in that habit here in Australia. Women may be licensed for a handgun if they so wish, but I don't know any women who do so wish. Rape, in my opinion, was unaffected by gun laws in Australia because neither the criminals nor the victims were ever toting the weapons we banned. There was no significant change in the incidence of rape before and after the introduction of gun laws in Australia to my knowledge. Its incidence is rare - it happens, but it's certainly rare enough that no woman worries about it much at all. Another consideration is that in Australia, most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, so a gun is neither necessary on the part of the attacker, nor would the victim usually think to draw a gun against that person because it's someone they don't generally feel threatened by.

Brazil obviously had a different result - so I'd ask what else in Brazil is different?

Andre Ribeiro Gil Sanchez said...

I think you missed my point. There is ample evidence that gun laws have no real impact on murder rates so it's meaningless to make such a comparison. US states that most resemble Canada have canadian murder rates. US states that most resemble Mexico have mexican murder rates (Mexico has reasonably strict gun control laws). I highly doubt that if Japan had the same approach to guns as Utah that murder rates in Japan would skyrocket; partly because murder rates in Utah itself are pretty low.

The relatively high murder rate in the US is gang violence related. That is, most of the people who are murdered in the U.S. are not innocent school children killed by another school children who happened to have access to guns but murderous gang members killed by other murderous gang members. If you take out the gang-related violence, the US has australian murder rates.

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