1. More of the same from Alpers and Chapman

    Dear Editor

    I would not have expected any different from concerted 'public health advocates' and long time anti-gun campaigners Philip Alpers and Simon Chapman than a vindication of the John Howard gun bans.

    Could it be that they have discovered the one instance in the world where gun bans can be shown to have saved lives? Could Australia be the exception to the rule that gun laws are ineffective the world over? Or could it be that they have used the resources of Sydney University to produce a detailed but one-sided argument to support their long promoted beliefs?

    Rather than enter into a long analysis of the work I'll leave it to a criminologist, rather than a health campaigner, to offer a counter to it; crime/2005/10/28/1130400366681.html#

    -Beginning of article- Gun ownership is rising and there is no definitive evidence that a decade of restrictive firearms laws has done anything to reduce weapon-related crime, according to NSW's top criminal statistician.

    The latest figures show a renaissance in firearm ownership in the state - a 25 per cent increase in three years. And the head of the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn, said falls in armed robberies and abductions in NSW in the past few years had more to do with the heroin drought and good policing than firearms legislation.

    Even falls in the homicide rate, which have been steady, began long before the gun law debate provoked by the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

    Nationwide, the proportion of robberies involving weapons is the same as it was in 1996, while the proportion of abductions involving weapons is higher, the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal. They show a mixed result in firearms-related offences since the mid-1990s. There has been a fall in firearms murders (from 32 to 13 per cent) but a rise (19 to 23 per cent) in attempted murders involving guns.

    "I would need to see more convincing evidence than there is to be able to say that gun laws have had any effect," Dr Weatherburn said. "The best that could be said for the tougher laws is there has been no other mass killing using firearms [since Port Arthur].

    "There has been a drop in firearm-related crime, particularly in homicide, but it began long before the new laws and has continued on afterwards. I don't think anyone really understands why. A lot of people assume that the tougher laws did it, but I would need more specific, convincing evidence …

    "There has been a more specific … problem with handguns, which rose up quite rapidly and then declined. The decline appears to have more to do with the arrest of those responsible than the new laws. As soon as the heroin shortage hit, the armed robbery rate came down. I don't think it was anything to do with the tougher firearm laws."

    The Shooters Party MP John Tingle agrees with this analysis but has decided to retire from politics next April because he is frustrated in his attempts to prevent further restrictions, even though the number of registered guns in NSW has jumped from 516,468 to 648,369 since 2002.

    "If the laws had worked there would be much less illegal gun crime … we are continuing this perception that if you tighten firearm laws you are going to control firearm crime, even though the opposite is true. Restrictive laws against legitimate ownership and use do nothing to stop gun-related crime because only law-abiding citizens will adhere to laws."

    The Police Commissioner, Ken Moroney, supports the laws irrespective of the statistics. "I don't think the laws have been designed to eliminate every firearm off the face of the Earth … but it has achieved proper registration, storage and more effective licensing. These measures have all been successful and John Tingle's role should be acknowledged … he is a man of objectivity and fairness. He hasn't been an advocate for advocacy sake." -End of article-

    For the article go to; fall-short-in-war-on-crime/2005/10/28/1130400366681.html#

    Alpers and Chapman may puport their personal point of view to be fact using elongated means, however 'NSW'a top criminal statistician' shows otherwise.

    Who would you believe? Regards, Ross.

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  2. Criticism and Comments on Alpers/Chapman paper

    Dear Editor

    It is not my plan to revisit the detailed AIC/ABS data and statistical analysis covered by the Alpers/Chapman report and other specialists (McPhedran/Baker). This response will offer comments from the aspects of clear thinking and logical deduction.

    Firstly, since there was never any Judicial Inquiry, nor Coronial Inquest into the Port Arthur Massacre, there was never the opportunity for any other aspects of this tragedy to be explored and investigated. Many survivors and the relatives of victims of PAM had demanded a full investigation, but were denied that opportunity. Such questions as why the local police had failed to act in the weeks before, on complaints from Martin Bryant's neighbours that he had been wildly firing his rifles late at night, remained unanswered. Other contributing factors which should have been investigated include; the influence of the collection of violent and sadistic videos in M.B.'s possession; the influence of the TV program "A Current Affair" broadcast ONLY in Tasmania some weeks before PAM, which comprised a "how to do it" of loading a semi-automatic rifle and blasting watermelons set up to simulate human heads; the failures of Australia's Mental Health System after implimenting the recommendations of The Richmond Report and why were none of the visitors in the "Broad Arrow" cafe prepared to tackle M.B., as he began his shooting attacks? Would the shooting spree have continued, or even begun in the first place, if some of the visitors at Port Arthur had been armed?

    Without such a base of possible/probable causes any examination of the "results" in the ten years past, is simply illogical, wild speculation.

    To use the Alpers/Chapman analogy of the train level crossing crash; if an electric train had run into a bus and killed 35 people, a full and detailed Coronial Inquiry would have been carried out with all factors being considered. For the Prime Minister to act immediately to ban all electric trains, would be the height of stupidity! The Alpers/Chapman report also ignores all other variables which have occurred in Australia during the past ten years which may have reduced the likelihood of another firearm mass murder; CCTVs now monitor most areas where people gather; an estimated 200,000 Private Security Guards (most armed with handguns!) now patrol our shopping centres, clubs and railway stations.

    Randy Marshall of Gun Control Australia, noted that an estimated 300,000 of the newly-banned firearms remained after the gun buy back was completed in 1997. From my own investigations that figure may be much higher, since many of the consignments from China of the SKS rifles showed for Customs Entry "One box: SKS rifle" but actually contained 5 rifles! It is illogical to conclude that the removal from private ownership of a small proportion of such rifles would be the reason for there to have been "no firearm mass murders" since 1996.

    The "NFA" with its prohibition of certain firearms and forced crushing program, was extremely unpopular! Under Australia's Constitution the States and Territories were responsible for implimenting Prime Minister Howard's Gun Laws. At that time (1996) all States and Territories, except New South Wales, were governed by Liberal (Howard's own party) or National (the Liberals Coalition partner). At each subsequest State/Territory election those parties were convincingly kicked out of office. In NSW the Labor Government increased its majority! The State Coalition Parties have, since 1996, contested and been defeated in 20 elections! In several States the Liberal or National parties now struggle to maintain official party status. Even P.M. Howard's own Federal seat is "marginal"!

    On a Return on Investment basis, Australia's Gun Prohibition laws are also quite illogical. A snapshot of Deaths in Australia (ABS) for 2002, shows: total deaths (all causes) 133,707. Deaths from "external causes" (car crashes, self harm etc.): 7,820. Murders: 363 and Firearm Murders: 42. (0.5% of preventable deaths) So, spending a billion dollars for a possible incremental change (or not)in an already small number, is pushing the law of diminishing returns. The Australian research program into the virus which causes cervical cancer and has the potential to save thousands of lives, was carried out using only a fraction of the money wasted on gun control.

    The Authors have claimed that the NFA and gun crushing program has been a success, since no firearm massacres have occurred. But, what if there HAD been another mass murder during the past ten years? Would advocates of Gun Control have then had to admit that the 1996 NFA and gun crushing had been a failure? On past performance, any spike in "Gun Deaths" is treated by the media and gun control advocates, as yet another excuse to introduce tougher firearms restrictions.

    Let's see a clear statement from Alpers and Chapman agreeing that if there was another gun massacre, they would admit that the laws had failed. Then, law abiding citizens could have unlimited access to unregistered firearms of their choice and the money saved on gun control, registration, inspections, attendances, etc., invested in the medical system, where it would save thousands of lives.

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  3. Re: Author's reply to Dr Lawson

    Dear Editor

    Re: Profs. Chapman and Alpers reply to Dr Lawson. E-letter 9 Jan 2007.

    I thank Professors Chapman and Alpers for their interest in my letter[1] in response to their paper[2].

    It seems that all parties[3,4,5] agree on the facts, that there was a steady decline in gun murder and suicide before the Australian National Firearms Agreement of 1996 and that this trend continued at a slightly accelerated rate post NFA. A few years later, a declining trend in total murder and suicide also began. Whether this means we can call the NFA a “success’ is problematic. As I pointed out in 1999[6], the precise goals were never defined at the outset. Hence anyone can make up their own concept and change it whenever they like. Chapman et al have chosen to define success as fewer or no mass murders with guns. They are of course entitled to do this. Chapman considers that the activist must "frame the debate". “How best can these different framings be assessed in terms of their reception by politicians and others who make decisions about policies.” [7]. Others may equally consider success as a sustained reduction in murder and suicide rates, not otherwise achieved, in a cost effective manner.

    I cannot comment on the “gun lobby" websites mentioned by Profs. Chapman and Alpers, as they do not list them in their references. However the factors mentioned are indeed included in the Australian Institute of Criminology publication “Indicators of Aggressive Behaviour”[8], as being relevant to violence in general, along with firearms availability as one factor. This paper reiterates that firearms account for only 24% of suicides and 15% of murders (p22)

    It is interesting to review the references provided by Profs. Chapman and Alpers.

    The FBI uniform crime reports quoted[9] indeed give frighteningly large numbers for US homicides and presumably Chapman and Alpers have calculated their ratios from these. However Chapman and Alpers neglect to point out that the same site reports decreases in rates of 2.4% and 3.3% for 2003 and 2004 respectively, an annual fall similar to that in Australia. The WISQARS Injury mortality reports[10] similarly show large figures for the numbers of US deaths. However, the rates per 100,000 are printed right alongside and are more informative. For 2004, US total murder rate=5..91, The ratio of US to Australian total murder rate of 5.91/1.6=3.69 is not nearly as exciting as saying that the US has 173 times the number of Australian gun deaths. This is an outstanding example of Chapman’s concept of using of "creative epidemiology" in advocacy work, ie. “reworking” the data into "new, interesting and arresting forms."[11]. From the same source, 67% of US murders are with guns, compared with Australia’s 16%. For the US, the same reference shows a black murder rate of 21.07, about six times the white rate of 3.63 and a black gun murder rate of 16.06, about 8 times the white rate of 3.96. One wonders about the cause of this discrepancy, as blacks and whites presumably have the same access to both legal and illegal guns. Could broader societal factors be involved? I find it incomprehensible that Chapman and Alpers declare we cannot learn anything from a society which has halved its murder rate over 10 years. The US suicide rate of 11.05 is very similar to the Australian rate.[12]

    The British are indeed fortunate that their spiraling gun murder rate has started from such a low base. Chapman and Alpers have not addressed the problem that the confiscations they favor are associated with the opposite of the desired effect. The deaths are still going up, even if many of the lesser offences do involve air guns and replicas.

    The article by Morrell et al,[13] quoted by Chapman and Alpers, maintains that the fall in suicide of young adult males is attributable to the government’s National Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy. This cost AUS$31 million over 4 years, less than one tenth the cost of the legal gun confiscations and less than the annual cost of the various states firearms registries. Yet Morell et al confirm that firearm suicide showed no sharp decrease as occurred for hanging or gas.

    In regard to the Lott and Mustard paper, Chapman and Alpers quote the US National Academy of Sciences report [14] as finding no evidence that right to carry laws have no impact, either way, on violent crime. The report actually says “it is impossible to draw strong conclusions-on the causal impact”(p121) and “it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right to carry laws and crime rates”(p150).The report did not dispute the finding of a fall in violent crime rates associates with increased legal gun carrying in some US states, the opposite of the result predicted by the more extreme anti-gun dogma. This report also states “existing research studies and data ------- do not credibly demonstrate a causal relationship between ownership of firearms and ---causes or prevention of criminal violence and suicide”(p6). And “a high level of violence may be a cause of high level of firearms availability instead of the other way around”(p54). Also “It is the committee’s view that the theory underlying gun buy-back programs is badly flawed and the empirical evidence demonstrates the ineffectiveness of these programs”(p95).

    In their letter, Profs Chapman and Alpers state “Other than the Childers incident, we know of no other mass killing by any method--“ Yet Chapman et al quote Reuter and Mouzos [15] “Given that mass murders cause so much fear-----it is appropriate to choose this as an evaluation outcome separate from homicide---“. Apparently Chapman and Alpers missed the immediately preceding sentence where Reuter and Mouzos state “There have been 3 mass murders in 5 years, a statistically insignificantly lower rate then pre-1996.”( Reuter and Mouzos do not mention the Childers incident-15 deaths, and presumably were writing prior to this.)

    Profs Chapman and Alpers accuse myself and the "gun lobby" of “trivializing mass public shootings as rare events”, on the basis that I put the problem in perspective by pointing out that such killings constitute less than 3% of total murders. This is very strange, as Chapman’s co-author, Prof. Alpers is also co-author of a paper [16] where mass public shootings are described as “very rare” and “exceptionally rare”(p283) and of “extreme rarity”(p284). Piehl [17] states they are “rare events” and claims there is a 13.5% chance of no mass killings in a 5 year period, even if the frequency were unchanged. Mouzos [18] describes mass and serial murder as “statistically rare” It is unlikely that Chapman and Alpers would agree that they are trivializing the other 97% of Australian murders because they are not mass murders committed with guns.

    I cannot accept Chapman and Alpers apparent casual dismissal of the need for an inquiry into exactly how the mentally retarded unlicensed Port Arthur murderer obtained military rifles. If we are serious about preventing a recurrence, it is not good enough to just say that “the answer would seem rather obvious”.

    There was indeed great media support for the NFA, doubtless assisted by Prof. Chapman putting “several hours a week into advocacy for stronger gun control” over the 4 years before Port Arthur. The intense public debate in 1996 could not be fully informed as little hard data were available at that time. For example, it was not until 4 years later that Mouzos’ work[19] was published, confirming that 90% of gun crime is committed by unlicensed persons with unregistered guns. Indeed, the mass media may well be part of the problem. Again, Chapman’s co-author, Prof. Alpers, is also co-author in Cantor et al[20] who suggest “the media are a necessary link in the chain of causation” (p287) Criminologists have repeatedly pointed out the media practice of concentrating on rare sensational events, thus misleading the public about crime risks in the real world. [21-23]. In fact, Mouzos and Segrave specifically state that the media misrepresentations may lead to misconceptions about the realities of homicide in Australia, through the media tendency to focus on firearms.

    Prof. Chapman’s style of writing blurs any distinction between military weapons and civilian firearms and also between legal and illegal firearms. According to Wilmoth [24], figures are only available for the state of Victoria, but these show that only 3.3% of the guns destroyed were high powered semi-automatics. The rest were civilian shotguns or rimfire rifles useful only for hunting and target shooting.

    I have not seen the film “Bowling for Columbine”. Those who have may be interested in the critique by Hardy.[25] Also, Thompson gives an interesting psychiatric perspective on the debate [26].

    Finally, Profs. Chapman and Alpers seem to believe I am some sort of spokesman for the “gun lobby”, although they give no reason for this and I would be interested to know what their reasons are. It cannot be simply that I do not agree with their conclusions.

    In summary, the NFA is a success if we adopt the criteria of Chapman et al, of fewer subsequent mass gun murders. Unfortunately, it has also been extremely expensive to establish and maintain and is irrelevant to 97% of murders and at least 80% of suicides. To remove all legal guns in Australia would be even more expensive and could not reduce the murder rate by more than 2%. Could we save more lives by using the resources differently?


    1. E-letter to Injury Prevention 4 Jan 2007.

    2. Chapman et al. Injury Prevention: 12; 365-372. Dec 2006. Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearms, deaths firearms suicides and a decade without mass shootings.

    3. Reuter P, Mouzos J."Australia: a Massive Buyback of Low-Risk Guns".Chapter 4. In: "Evaluating Gun Policy- Effects on crime and violence". Eds. Ludwig J, Cook P J. Brookings Institute Press, 2003.

    4. Ozanne-Smith J et al. Firearms related deaths: the impact of regulatory reform. Injury prevention 2004;10:280-286.

    5. Baker J, McPhedran S. Gun laws and Sudden Death: Did the Australian Firearms Legislation of 1996 Make a Difference? British Journal of Criminology 2006- Advance Access published 18 Oct 2006.

    6. Lawson JB. “New national Gun Laws: are they cost-effective. Institute of Public affairs Review. 51(4) 27-8. Dec 1999 pubid=5 Accessed 20-1-07.

    7. Chapman S, Lupton D. "The Fight for Public Health-Principles and practice of media advocacy". BMJ Publishing Group 1994. p12.

    8. McDonald D, Brown M. “Indicators of Aggressive Behaviour” Australian Iinstitute of Criminology 1996.

    9. US Department of Justice. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Murder. Table 2.9 Accessed 20 Jan 2007.

    10. US Centers for Disease Control. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports 2004. Accessed 20 Jan 2007.

    11. Chapman S, Lupton D. "The Fight for Public Health-Principles and practice of media advocacy". BMJ Publishing Group 1994. p160.

    12. Australian Bureau of Statistics Year Book Australia 2002. Health- Special Article—Suicide.

    13. Morrell S, Page AN, Taylor RJ. “The decline in Young Australian male suicide” Social Science and Medicine 64 2007, 747-754.

    14. 9. National Academy of Sciences. Committee on Law and Justice. Firearm violence: a critical review. Washington, 2004.

    15. Reuter P, Mouzos J. op ci t. p141.

    16. Cantor CH, Sheehan P, Alpers P, Mullen P, “Media and Mass homicide. ” Archives of Suicide Research .5, 283-290. 1999.

    17. Piehl AM. Commentary on Reuter and Mouzos. In "Evaluating Gun Policy- Effects on crime and violence". Eds. Ludwig J, Cook P J. Brookings Institute Press, 2003. p143.

    18. Mouzos J ”Homicidal Encounters A study of homicide in Australia 1989-1999. “ Australian Institute of Criminology 2000. p83.

    19. 25. Mouzos J. “The Licensing and Registration Status of Firearms used in Homicide”. Australian Institute of Criminology May2000.Trends and Issues Paper 151. Accessed 20 Jan 2007.

    20. Cantor CH, Sheehan P, Alpers P, Mullen P, “Media and Mass homicide. ” Archives of Suicide Research .5, 283-290. 1999.

    21. Mouzos J., Segrave M. "Homicide in Australia. 2002-2003 National Homicide Monitoring Program Annual Report". Australian Institute of Criminology 2004. p3.

    22. Weatherburn D. "Law and Order in Australia-Rhetoric and reality". The Federation Press 2004. pp 2,3,48

    23. Grabowsy P., Wilson P. "Journalism and Justice-How crime is reported". Pluto Press Sydney. 1989. Especially chapters 2,8,9.

    24. Wilmoth R. Unpublished report. Copy available from author.

    25.Hardy DT. The truth about “Bowling for Columbine”. Accessed 19-Jan 2007

    26. Thompson S. “Raging against Self defence”. Accessed 19 Jan 2007.

    Dr.J.B.Lawson. MB BS., B Med Sc., FRANZCR. 3 Lucas St. Brighton Vic 3186. Australia.

    Mob 0417 08 1113 20 Jan 2007.

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  4. Author's reply to Dr Lawson

    Dear Editor

    Dr James Lawson [1] seeks to summarise similarities in our findings [2] with those of three other reports, particularly that of Baker and McPhedran [3]. He notes that we agree that there was a “continuation” of the pre-existing trend in falling firearm deaths following the implementation of the Australian National Firearms Agreement (NFA) of 1996. The word we used purposefully was that there was a statistically significant “acceleration” of the downward trend. He says we attribute this to the NFA. In fact, we took care to emphasise (p370) that the accelerated overall decline was only associated with the passage of the NFA. We highlighted the difficulty of inferring that the downturn – being so dominated by firearm suicides – could have been readily attributable to the removal of semi-automatic firearms from the community.

    We readily agree that the large scale effort to try and reduce suicide in the community is relevant to any consideration of why total suicides have fallen [4]. Browsing gun lobby websites shows that poor policing and mental health services, violence in the media, failure of the media to censor reports of mass killings, and failure to report people who “act strangely” are all putative causes of gun violence which have their enthusiasts, as do simplistic notions that people posing danger to the community are readily identifiable in advance. But suggesting that easy access to guns designed to kill many people quickly may be relevant is a profanity in such circles.

    Where we differ from those who 10 years on, remain angered about their inability to own military-style weaponry such as that used to kill 35 at Port Arthur, is that we are open to the possibility that removing such firearms from the community might have reduced the ability of people to carry out such killings.

    We described the most palpable and plausible effect of the NFA as the cessation of mass shootings, an omission of “rhinoceros in the living room” proportions from the Baker and McPhedran paper. A cornerstone of the NFA was the unanimous decision of all Australia’s federal, state and territory governments to outlaw private ownership of semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shot guns. These are weapons of choice for those intent on killing many people quickly. The Australian Prime Minister said at the time: “There is no legitimate interest served in my view by the free availability in this country of weapons of this kind… Every effort should be made to ensure such an incident [Port Arthur] does not occur again.” [5]

    Dr Lawson and others in the gun lobby regularly seek to trivialise mass public shootings as rare events, implying that their infrequency somehow makes them an improper outcome of interest. Here, we would simply point to the overwhelming degree of public support for the NFA which occurred against a background of unparalleled public discussion and media attention where the gun lobby had every opportunity to put alternative views, including arguments that the buyback money could have been more effectively spent on other strategies. The small and transitory levy on income tax which paid for the gun buyback attracted minimal criticism.

    People intent on mass murder have other options than using guns, as the Childers backpacker arsonist/murderer showed. Our analysis however, showed that there was no apparent net substitution effect for either homicide nor suicide. Other than the Childers incident, we know of no other mass killing by any method in Australia since the passage of the NFA.

    Dr Lawson wonders how the Port Arthur gunman was able to acquire his highly effective mass killing weapons. The answer would seem rather obvious. There were hundreds of thousands of semi-automatic rifles and pump action shot guns in the community. Being largely unregistered, and so difficult to trace in their movement among gun owners, they were readily available to anyone willing to sell such a gun to any buyer with money. If even one in 1000 of Australia’s some 800,000 licensed shooters were prepared to sell just one such gun to criminals or unstable individuals, in an unregistered environment 800 such untraceable guns would fall into the hands of high risk individuals. The government saw this as unacceptable and the community agreed.

    Lawson thinks it “strange” that our paper did not mention international comparisons in firearm deaths. Our paper concerned the Australian situation, but we are pleased to respond to his comments about the USA and the UK. We believe there are few lessons for nations like Australia in the USA’s track record with firearm deaths. Currently, the United States has 14.5 times Australia’s population, 102 times its total firearm deaths [2,6], and 173 times its number of firearm homicides [2,7]. Relating different periods of firearm deaths in the USA with the implication that Australia should emulate US gun policy is like arguing that Baghdad is safer than Bogota.

    Similarly, Lawson notes that in the UK, total homicides have risen 62% and firearm homicides by 20% since the introduction of the post- Dunblane laws [8]. He fails to note though that the UK has, by US standards, an almost homeopathic rate of gun homicide (in 2002/03, just 80 in a population of about 60 million) [8]. On the assumption that he is arguing that US-style gun laws rather than UK and Australian laws make communities safer, it would appear that he has a little explaining to do. Also, of 24,070 crimes committed with “firearms” in the UK in 2002/03, 13,822 (57%) involved airguns and 1,815, toy or imitation guns [8].

    Dr Lawson’s nostalgia for a return to the days when firearms were unregistered and his carefully qualified hints about the desirability of a heavily armed society where armed “good guys” could dispatch violent armed “bad guys” in public settings is not a view shared by the great majority of Australian citizens who have now lived over 10 years free of the regular gun mayhem that characterises news about guns coming from the United States. Similarly, his opinion of Lott and Mustard’s paper as a “landmark” contribution to evidence about armed deterrence is not one shared by a wide range of critical reviews, including the US National Academy of Sciences which found no evidence showing right-to-carry laws have an impact, either way, on rates of violent crime [9].

    Finally, Dr Lawson gives SC far too much credit for “coordinating” gun control advocacy in Australia. SC was involved for a relatively short period (1993-1996), typically putting no more than several hours a week into advocacy for stronger gun control. The vast majority of Australian citizens strongly supported the NFA. They needed little persuading that Australia did not want to go down the US road so memorably examined by Mike Moore in Bowling for Columbine.


    1. Lawson JS. eLetter. Injury Prevention 2006 4 Jan.

    2. Chapman S, Alpers P, Agho K, Jones M. Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearm deaths, firearm suicides and a decade without mass shootings. Injury Prevention 2006; 12; 365-372.

    3. Baker J, McPhedran S. Gun laws and sudden death. Did the Australian firearms legislation of 1996 make a difference? British Journal of Criminology 2006; Advance access Oct 18 doi:10.1093/bjc/921084

    4. Morrell S, Page AN, Taylor RJ. The decline in Australian young male suicide. Soc Sci Med. 2007;64(3):747-54.

    5. Howard J. ‘Never, Ever Again.’ Prime Ministerial Op-ed. Herald Sun. Melbourne, 10 May 1996.

    6. US Centers for Disease Control. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports 2004.

    7. US Department of Justice. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Murder. Table 2.9

    8. Povey D. (ed).Crime in England and Wales 2002/2003: Supplementary Volume 1: Homicide and Gun Crime 01/04 January 2004. Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate (RDS).

    9. National Academy of Sciences. Committee on Law and Justice. Firearm violence: a critical review. Washington, 2004.

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  5. Re: Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearms, deaths firearms suicides and a decad


    Re: Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearms, deaths firearms suicides and a decade without mass shootings. Chapman et al. Injury Prevention: 12; 365-372. Dec 2006.

    Chapman et al. use official Australian Government statistics to demonstrate a continuing fall in firearms murder and suicide following the implementation of the Australian National Firearms Agreement (NFA) of 1996. They also state that this was a continuation of a pre-existing trend in falling firearms deaths over several years. This confirms the previous reports of Reuter and Mouzos [1], Ozanne-Smith et al [2] and Baker and McPhedran [3]. In all four papers, the authors agree that there had been a steady decline in gun murder and gun suicide before the NFA [4] and that this decline continued post NFA. Reuter and Mouzos and Ozanne-Smith et al found no decrease in total suicide after 5 years. Reuter and Mouzos found a marginal fall in total murder, whereas Ozanne-Smith did not. Ten years post NFA, Baker and McPhedran and Chapman et al confirm continuing falls in both gun murder and gun suicide and also total murder and total suicide. Thus far, all authors are in agreement.

    Controversy arises in that Baker and McPhedran report a slightly faster fall in total and gun suicide post NFA but no significant increase in the rate of decline in gun and total murder. They attribute the continuing decline to general social factors, not the NFA. In contrast, Chapman et al maintain that there are marginally faster rates of decline in gun and total murders and suicides which are significant and due to the NFA. While it makes sense that fewer guns would be associated with fewer gun deaths, it is intuitively difficult to see how mass gun confiscations would reduce suicides by hanging and car exhausts and reduce murders by stabbing and beating.

    Harrison and Steenkamp reported a marked increase in suicide by hanging and car exhaust in the first 2 years after the NFA [5], suggesting initial method substitution. The subsequent fall in total suicide developed after Australia mounted a strong campaign to raise awareness of depression as a severe and treatable illness and to remove any shame or stigma attached to depression and other mental illness. Well known public figures, including politicians, actors and sporting personalities have described in the media their personal struggles with depressive illness [6]. This may account for the observed fall in total suicides, including the continuing decline in the subset of gun suicides.

    Despite the welcome post NFA fall in murder, the current rate is still higher than in 1950-1980, when there were virtually no long gun controls at all [7]. Curiously, Weatherburn maintains, that for the most populous state of New South Wales, the fall in gun crime is due to good policing, reduced availability of heroin and the arrest of hard core violent criminals [8]. This has apparently occurred despite a 25% increase in legal gun ownership over 2002-5.

    International comparisons are even more confusing. Despite increasingly strict gun laws, the United Kingdom murder rate doubled since 1966 [9] and is now higher than the Australian rate. (See Povey - Table 1.01 p15). In particular, since the total handgun confiscations of 1996, the total murder numbers have risen 62%. This includes gun murder numbers up 20%. ( Povey - Table 1.03 p17) and handgun crime numbers up 66%. (Povey - Table 2.03 p 51.) IE Mass gun confiscations in UK have produced exactly the opposite effect claimed for Australia.

    The USA murder rate doubled during 1960-1975, from about 5/100,000 to 10/100,000per annum, remained at this level for 10 years, and has now fallen to almost 1960 levels.[10] This drop occurred despite a 36% increase in the number of legal US guns over 1975-1985 [11]. Paradoxically, the landmark paper of Lott and Mustard [12] reported a marked decrease in mass gun murders in public places in those US states which changed their laws to allow citizens to carry concealed handguns. Curiously, new Zealand, which participated in the Australian deliberations, but chose not to implement the NFA, experienced a significant decline in gun murder, but no change in total murder. [13] Strangely, Chapman et al do not mention any of the international figures.

    Chapman et al claim correctly that there have been no mass gun murders in Australia since the implementation of the NFA in 1996 and that the NFA is therefore a “success”. Unfortunately, there was never any generally agreed definition of “success” at the time the NFA was implemented .However there have been a few mass murders, not involving firearms, particularly the arson attack at Childers, Queensland, in which 15 people died. The others were domestic tragedies in which parents killed their children and then suicided. Oddly, Chapman et al appear to define a mass murder as an incident with 5 or more deaths [14]. They state specifically that “this is to exclude most of the more common firearm related spousal and family violence killings” (footnote to Table 1 p367). In contrast, the Australian Institute of Criminology uses a definition of 4 or more deaths in a single incident [15]. Chapman’s choice of definition would result in fewer “mass murders”. (Note: The murders in Snowtown, South Australia, 12 deaths, were serial killings). It is puzzling that Chapman et al quote Reuter and Mouzos [16] that mass murders are an “appropriate evaluation outcome”, but ignore their contention in the same article that “the frequency of those events is so low that not much can be inferred”[17] and that mass murder shows a “statistically insignificant lower rate than pre-1996”[18]. Fortunately, Reuter and Mouzos put the matter in perspective, pointing out that mass murders account for only 3% of all homicides in Australia [19].

    In an earlier work, Chapman points out that the Port Arthur murderer was receiving a pension for intellectual handicap and sociopathic personality disorder, and had a mental age of 11[20]. The murderer had never had a gun licence and also drove a car without a licence [21]. If we wish to prevent further mass gun murders in public places, it seems a good idea to find out how such a person managed to obtain a military assault rifle illegally. This was never even investigated. It did not emerge at the trial as the accused pleaded guilty.( Note: For the benefit of readers outside Australia, I point out that all the Port Arthur victims were unarmed, as local laws prohibited weapon carrying for self defence. I state this as a matter of fact, without comment).

    Chapman et al quite correctly point out that there was great public and media support for the NFA in 1996. Most of the credit for this must go to Chapman himself. Over several years before the Port Arthur killings, Chapman himself co-ordinated “the planned ,strategic use of media”, and “a sustained period of public advocacy for gun law reform” [22]. He describes “preceding years of advocacy”[23] and recommends that “violent gun incidents should be anticipated and planned for so “advocates exploit to advantage the huge public and political interest these disasters generate when they occur” [24]. The distinction between media advocacy and propaganda is never explained.

    These matters are not mere academic quibbles. The Australian federal government has spent at least half a billion dollars of public funds on mass confiscations of legally owned guns over 1996-2003. “Buy-back” was a euphemism for confiscation under threat of fines and imprisonment, although monetary compensation was paid. Further tens of millions of dollars are spent annually on registering each individual legal firearm, despite the lack of any clear benefit. The state of Victoria has actually gone so far as to require registration of all antique black powder muzzle loaders and blank-firing sports starting pistols! As 90% of Australian gun crime is committed by unlicensed persons with unregistered guns [25] and legal guns are involved in about 2% of Australian murders [26], even total destruction of all legal guns in Australia would have only minimal benefit.

    Could greater cost effectiveness have been achieved by using the resources for improving mental health services or drug rehabilitation, preventing domestic violence, anti-smoking campaigns? No-one has examined this, a surprising omission for a Professor of Public Health.


    1"Australia: a Massive Buyback of Low-Risk Guns".Chapter 4. In: "Evaluating Gun Policy- Effects on crime and violence". Eds. Ludwig J, Cook P J. Brookings Institute Press, 2003.

    2. Ozanne-Smith J et al. Firearms related deaths: the impact of regulatory reform. Injury prevention 2004;10:280-286.

    3. Baker J, McPhedran S. Gun laws and Sudden Death: Did the Australian Firearms Legislation of 1996 Make a Difference? British Journal of Criminology 2006- Advance Access published 18 Oct 2006.

    4.Firearms Deaths-Australia 1980—1995.Australian Bureau of Statistics 1997. cat no. 4397.0.

    5. Harrison JE, Steenkamp M. Australian Injury prevention bulletin Issue 23, 2000. Accessed 22 12 2006.

    6. See for example

    7. Mouzos J. Homicidal Encounters. A study of homicide in Australia 1989-1999. Australian Institute of Criminology. 2000. p9.

    8. Weatherburn D. “ Gun laws fall short in war on crime.” Quoted in Sydney Morning Herald 29 10 2005.

    9. Povey D. (ed).Crime in England and Wales 2002/2003: Supplementary Volume 1: Homicide and Gun Crime 01/04 Editor: David Povey January 2004. Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate (RDS). Accessed 23-12 2006.

    10. Fox JA, Zawitz MW. “Homicide Trends in the US. Long term trends and patterns.” United States Dept. of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Accessed 23-12-2006.

    11. Kleck G. “Targeting guns”. Aldine de Gruyter 1997. pp96-97.

    12. Lott JR, Mustard DB. “Crime, Deterrence and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns.” Journal of Legal Studies 26(1). Jan 1997.

    13. Reuter P, Mouzos J. op cit. p135.

    14. Chapman S, Alpers P, Agho K,Jones M. “ustralia’s 1996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearms, deaths firearms suicides and a decade without mass shootings” Injury Prevention: 12; 365-372. Dec 2006. p366.

    15. Mouzos J. “Homicidal Encounters. A study of homicide in Australia 1989-1999”. Australian Institute of Criminology 2000.

    16. Reuter P, Mouzos J. op cit. p131.

    17. ibid. p122

    18. ibid p141.

    19. ibid p127.

    20. Chapman S. Over Our dead Bodies. Port Arthur and the Fight for Gun control. Pluto Press 1997. pp136-7.

    21. ibid p73.

    22. ibid. preface, 1st page

    23. ibid p5.

    24. ibid pp6-7.

    25. Mouzos J. “The Licensing and Registration Status of Firearms used in Homicide”. Australian Institute of Criminology May2000.Trends and Issues Paper 151. Accessed 28- 12 2006

    26. Mouzos J, Segrave M. Homicide in Australia. 2002-2003 National Homicide Monitoring Program Annual Report. Australian Institute of Criminology. 2004 p15. accessed 28-12 2006.

    Dr.J.B.Lawson. MB BS., B Med Sc., FRANZCR. 3 Lucas St. Brighton Vic 3186. Australia. Mob 0417 08 1113

    2 Jan 2007.

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