FROM an Australian perspective, the American obsession with guns – so fatefully played out in Las Vegas this week – is truly incomprehensible.
By a variety of measures, there has been a dramatic impact on these shores since the Howard government’s tightening of Australian gun laws in the wake of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. Not only are there fewer homicides involving firearms, but the overall homicide rate has also fallen, proving conclusively that when guns are taken out of the equation, people are safer. The idea that guns are needed to protect innocent people from criminals – the standard justification given by the pro-shooting lobby in America – just simply doesn’t stack up.
According to GunPolicy.org – an institution associated with University of Sydney adjunct academic Philip Alpers – Australia’s firearm homicide rate in 2015 was 0.12 deaths per 100,000 head of population. The comparative United States figure, from 2014, was 3.6 deaths per 100,000, a rate 30 times greater than the Australian figure.
Gun control has also helped reduce Australian suicide rates – which are lower than America’s – indicating that the lack of availability of a ready weapon has also saved lives. Despite these successes, there can be no room for complacency.
In a report published this month, Associate Professor Alpers argued that no Australian state or territory has fully complied with Australia’s National Firearms Agreement. Although the most important provisions of the agreement remained “substantially intact”, various concessions, including the allowance of silencers in NSW, were issues for concern.
With a focus on the threat of terrorism, the Turnbull government introduced a three-month firearms amnesty on July 1, which resulted in more than 51,000 weapons being handed in, half of them from NSW.
The “no questions asked” amnesty was aimed at eating into a stockpile of some 260,000 illicit weapons the government believed were still in circulation, despite the tighter laws.
As the Newcastle Herald is reporting, police have concerns about the degree of weapon theft in the Hunter, with some 468 guns reported stolen across the region in the past five years. The onus is on gun owners to install serious, proper, security, but in an increasingly urban nation like Australia, the possession of firearms for “fun” is becoming something of an anachronism.