Statements by politicians and the anti-gun lobby that Australia’s 1996 gun laws have saved about 200 lives every year since then are wrong, and should be seen as nothing but ambit claims supporting their agendas.
A comparison of statistics for firearm-related deaths before and after 1996 reveals there is no substance to those claims.
A fact sheet released by Women Into Shooting and Hunting (WiSH) tallies firearm-related deaths in Australia over more than 30 years and shows a steady decline over that whole period.
There is no acceleration in the decline after the 1996 gun laws were introduced.
The sharpest single drop in gun-related deaths from year to year during the period was from 1997 to 1998, when there were 127 fewer deaths. In contrast, Australia recorded its second largest increase in gun deaths the very next year, when 55 more people died.
The thing that is not disputed is that Australians, when it comes to firearms, have been getting safer throughout those three decades to 2010. The numbers of suicides, homicides and fatal accidents have all reduced significantly.
However, the cause of the reductions is highly contentious, and the anti-gun lobby has focussed strongly on the gun laws brought about by the Howard government in 1996 as the reason, ignoring other possibilities.
The figures are pertinent to the debate about gun laws brought on by last month’s mass murder of children and teachers at Sandy Hook in the USA. The Australian anti-gun lobby was vocal in its steadfast belief in the benefits of local gun laws, and the media rarely queried them.
“The need for certain gun-hating individuals to get themselves into the media in an effort to project this infamous incident onto Australian shooters and hunters is abominable, and says more about them as sick-minded people in need of media attention than it does damage to the excellent reputation of Australian shooters and hunters,” Shooters and Fishers Party MLC Robert Borsak said.
He added that the SFP had stayed out of the debate on purpose: “The SFP does not support the unseemly spectacle of giving free publicity to mentally disturbed mass murderers in the US or other countries,” he said.
“We do not think it is proper make publicity out of the tragic deaths of the innocent victims of mad men.”
He welcomed the WiSH figures, which he said should add to a balanced and sensible assessment of the true effectiveness of gun laws, and help society find real solutions to preventing tragedies.
The WiSH fact sheet indicates stricter gun laws are not doing the job.
“Taking into account the pre-existing downward trend in deaths, there is no evidence that 200 lives have been saved each year due to Australia’s gun laws,” WiSH stated.
“The number of firearm-related deaths was declining prior to Australia’s 1996 gun laws. The decline continued after the legislative changes.”
A comparison of similar figures between Australia and New Zealand implies cultural and social factors are much more likely to be responsible for the decline in Australian gun-death rates.
Analysis of available data by Gavin Greaves, the Country Alliance candidate for Warrandyte in Victoria, indicates New Zealanders own far more firearms than Australians, at 22.5 guns per 100 people compared with 15 per 100 here.
Kiwis may also own semi-automatic longarms, which are regarded as prohibited weapons in Australia.
Yet while the Australian figures show 11.5% of homicides are by firearm, in NZ the figure is barely higher at 13.5%.
The number of homicides per 100,000 people in Australia is only 0.14, almost identical to NZ at 0.16.
“Our closest socially equivalent neighbour has a higher rate of gun ownership and significantly different gun laws yet we are both maintaining the same social crime rates,” Mr Greaves said.
“We are one of the safest countries in the world, the same as New Zealand, and gun laws have nothing to do with it.”