The Port Arthur gun ban hasn’t saved lives


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David Leyonhjelm,  Senator for the Liberal Democrats

 Australians may pride themselves on “telling it like it is”, but when it comes to gun laws, straight-shooting all too often takes a back seat to a determined effort at silencing debate.

Twenty years ago a ­deranged individual murdered 35 people at Port Arthur using firearms. In response, Australia passed some of the most ­restrictive gun laws in the western world. These included bans on self-loading rifles and shotguns, and pump-action shotguns, plus a taxpayer- funded gun confiscation program costing over a billion dollars. All legally owned firearms are now registered, costing the states tens of millions of dollars a year to manage.

For that price, any civilised liberal democracy should ­expect to have a decent debate about the efficacy of its policies. Instead, all we hear are anti-gun activists telling the rest of the world that Australia’s model of firearms ­management has been a ­resounding success. “We saved lives!” they claim. “We stopped mass shootings!” they say.The fact is, serious debate about gun laws has been all but silenced. Not a single inquiry or inquest was ever held into the Port Arthur massacre, ­unlike the two inquiries and one inquest into the Lindt Café siege in which two innocent people died.

Simplistic comparisons are drawn with the US, which has periodic massacres, with more relaxed gun laws blamed. We hear it said repeatedly that there have been no mass shootings in Australia since 1996, which supposedly demonstrates the effectiveness of our gun laws.

The truth is quite different. There have been eight shootings in Australia with three or more victims during that time.By contrast New Zealand, a country very similar to Australia in history, culture, and economic trends, has experienced no mass shooting events despite the ongoing widespread availability of the types of firearms Australia banned.

Moreover, there is sound research into the impact of Australia’s 1996 gun laws. Some of it comes from anti-gun groups, some from pro-gun groups, and some from groups who have no personal connections to firearms one way or the other.

Using the same ABS data and a range of statistical methods, not a single study has found any change in the rate of firearm homicides as a result of the changed gun laws.

The simple fact is that ­firearm homicides were ­decreasing well before the laws were implemented, and the ­decline simply continued at the same rate after the legislative changes.

Moreover, this decline in firearm homicides in Australia is not unusual.At least two other Commonwealth countries (Canada and New Zealand) have had similar or greater declines even though these countries have far less restrictive gun laws than Australia.

And without denying it has an overall much higher level of homicides (non-firearm as well as firearm related), the US has had an even larger rate of ­decline in the face of very ­substantial liberalisation of its gun laws, in particular ­allowing carrying firearms for self-­defence.

And yet, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the anti-gun lobby continues to promote untruths. Despite the massive price tag attached to Australia’s gun laws, rational debate remains impossible.

Despite the fact that other policies may be far more effective at saving lives, dissenting views about the gun laws are ridiculed and shrilly shouted down. And despite gun owners being far less likely to commit criminal acts than non-gun-owners, our law-abiding shooters are still treated like pariahs apart from when they win medals at the Olympics.

If Muslims, blacks or Jews were treated like gun-owners, there would be outrage.

Neither collective guilt nor punishment would be tolerated. Firearm owners, on the other hand, face the impact of collective punishment on a daily basis.

Yes, the rest of the world can indeed learn a lesson from Australia’s gun control experiment. But that lesson is really not about gun laws.

David Leyonhjelm is a Senator for the Liberal Democrats. This article was originally published in the Daily Telegraph.


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