Gillard only has ears for us

Howard and Hawke saved thousands of Australian lives, but Julia Gillard only takes advice from ‘ruthless’ shooters, according to wild claims by Gun Control Australia.

GCA, which has previously demanded the government ban shooters from giving any advice to government, is now implying no one but shooters are being given that privilege.

The comments about former prime ministers John Howard and Bob Hawke, and current PM Julia Gillard, were made in a statement on the GCA website introducing a re-published version of Howard’s recent anti-gun opinion piece.

“Both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard are happy to be advised by panels consisting of shooters only – shooters who, for the most part, are dedicated to destroying the Hawke and Howard gun controls that have saved thousands of Australian lives,” GCA says.

“Australia is fortunate to have had such leaders who stood up to our ruthlessly selfish gun lobby,” it says. “How tragic, then, that our present PM will not represent the needs of the Australian people today and do the same.”

GCA uses over-simplified calculations and generalisations to tally the lives saved, saying it estimates “over 400 fewer gun suicides now take place each year because of the success of stricter gun laws.”

However, Australia’s suicide rate among men over the 20 years to 2008 has remained relatively stable, ranging from 20 per 100,000 population to a peak of about 24 per 100,000 in 1997 and a low of around 14 in 2006, since when it has climbed again.

Among females, the rate has stayed close to 5 suicides per 100,000 during that period.

The nation’s murder rate has declined steadily through that time, from roughly 6 per 100,000 to just under 2 per 100,000, with no significant change when Howard’s gun laws were introduced after 2006.

GCA quotes a 2010 study that claimed “the [gun] buyback led to a drop in the firearm suicide rates of almost 80%, with no significant effect on non-firearm death rates.”

However, that study contrasted strongly with the results of work by Jeanine Baker and Samara McPhedron, authors of 2008 research that concluded the non-firearm suicide rate had not fallen as quickly as other forms of suicide. This study suggested prominent suicide prevention programs had been beneficial.

The authors of both studies had previously engaged in heated debate about statistics and research methods, in many ways pointing to the difficulty of coming up with hard conclusions about gun laws.

The figures on suicide may be even less reliable than thought, with claims that suicides in Australia are grossly under-reported and, rather than being at a low in the mid- to late-2000s, may have been as high as they were in the 1990s.

Using different methods again, University of Melbourne research published in 2008 concluded the National Firearms Agreement – part of the Howard anti-gun agenda – “did not have any large effects on reducing firearm homicide or suicide rates.”

None of this has slowed Gun Control Australia’s selective and usually sensationalised use of information when it attacks what it calls “our ruthlessly selfish gun lobby”.

Its statement about the PM listening only to shooters presumably refers to the recent formation of the Commonwealth Firearms Advisory Council, a body established to represent shooters and the shooting industry.

It includes representatives of the police, customs and the attorney-general, and is one of many groups advising the government on firearm issues and laws, alongside state ministers, Australian and NZ police, customs, the Australian Institute of Criminology and others.




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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.