In Port Arthur, Tasmania in 1996, Martin Bryant, a mentally handicapped man with neither a driver’s license nor a firearms license in his possession, went on a killing spree. Before it was over thirty-five people were killed and twenty-three were wounded. It is thought the inspiration for his killing spree was the the publicity surrounding another such incident in Dunblane, Scotland, also in 1996, where Thomas Hamilton killed sixteen school children and one adult. It was a copycat killing spree. In the aftermath of the killings in Port Arthur, the federal government of Prime Minister John Howard responded to the hue and cry generated by prohibitionists and imposed the 1996 National Firearms Agreement (NFA) on Australian gun owners. In short, The 1996 National Firearms Agreement imposed a regime of licensing and registration on Australian gun owners and introduced widespread prohibitions on civilian ownership of handguns, repeating rifles and shotguns. This legislation is lauded by prohibitionists as a worthwhile measure. They claim, as did John Howard it would bring about a decline in firearms deaths and as such, the issue was not gun prohibition, but rather, public safety.
This piece of legislation is draconian to say the least. The tone of the document is appalling. It is essentially founded on that tired old refrain that “only policemen and soldiers need guns.” Take this selection from the opening paragraph of the document, for example:
para 1.2 The only need for the use of an automatic or semi-automatic longarm would be:
- police or other government purposes; and
- occupational categories of shooters who have been licensed for a specified purpose (eg extermination of feral animals). (1996 National Firearms Agreement)
The document specifies in paragraph 3. (a) “that personal protection not be regarded as a genuine reason for owning, possessing or using a firearm.” (1996 National Firearms Agreement)
The key component of the NFA is the categorization of firearms which includes the following:
- Category A: Rimfire rifles (not semi-automatic), shotguns (not pump-action or semi-automatic), air rifles, and paintball markers. A “Genuine Reason” must be provided for a Category A firearm.
- Category B: Centrefire rifles (not semi-automatic), muzzle loading firearms made after 1 January 1901. Apart from a “Genuine Reason”, a “Genuine Need” must be demonstrated, including why a Category A firearm would not be suitable.
- Category C: Semi-automatic rimfire rifles holding 10 or fewer rounds and pump-action or semi-automatic shotguns holding 5 or fewer rounds. Category C firearms are strongly restricted: only primary producers, occupational shooters, collectors and some clay target shooters can own functional Category C firearms.
- Category D: Semi-automatic centrefire rifles, pump-action or semi-automatic shotguns holding more than 5 rounds. Functional Category D firearms are restricted to government agencies and a few occupational shooters. Collectors may own deactivated Category D firearms.
- Category H: Handguns including air pistols and deactivated handguns. (Albeit both SA and WA do not require deactivated handguns to be regarded as handguns after the deactivation process has taken place. This situation was the catalyst in QLD for the deactivation and diversion of thousands of handguns to the black-market – the loophole shut since 2001) This class is available to target shooters. To be eligible for a Category H firearm, a target shooter must serve a probationary period of 12 months the first 6 months using club handguns,then in the remainder of the last 6 month probationary licence, an application may be made, permit to acquire. A minimum number of matches yearly to retain each category of handgun and be a financial member of an approved Pistol Club. (Wikipedia)
Following the passage of the NFA, the Australian government instituted a buyback, that is confiscation and general prohibition of lawfully owned semi-automatic and pump action firearms. The buyback started on 1 October 1996 and concluded on 30 September 1997. The buyback purchased, at a cost of $350 million, and destroyed more than 631,000 firearms, mostly semi-auto .22 rimfires, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns.
John Howard and like-minded prohibitionists in Australia and across the world were well pleased with this legislative effort, crediting it with the declining rate in firearms deaths in Australia. Prohibitionists, such as those who staff the Harvard Injury Research Center concur insisting that gun availability is a risk factor in homicide by gun. They assert the following:
Our review of the academic literature found that a broad array of evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide, both in the United States and across high-income countries. Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the US, where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide. (Homicide)
While this seems quite plausible at face value, the fact remains, they have yet to provide any evidence to substantiate their claims.
There is, however, evidence that refutes their claims with regard to the Australian experiment with prohibition. Two Australian scholars, Dr. Samara McPhedran, a Senior Research Fellow at Griffith University, whose research interests include suicide, what contributes to it and its prevention and Dr. Jeanine Baker of the International Coalition for Women in Shooting and Hunting, examined the declining rate of firearms deaths in Australian before and after the buyback of semi-automatic and pump action firearms in 1996. Their study, published in 2006, Gun laws and sudden death: Did the Australian firearms legislation of 1996 make a difference?, in the British Journal of Criminology, indicates there was no difference in the rate of decline. Firearms deaths were in decline before Martin Bryant’s killing spree and the trend continued following the buyback. In addition, of those firearms deaths on record, it was found that more than ninety per cent of firearms used to commit homicide were not registered, their users were not licensed and they were unaffected by the firearms agreement. So in spite of the confiscation of common hunting rifles and shotguns from licensed owners, there is still more than enough black market firearms available for those who would misuse them.
The motivation for the 1996 National Firearms Agreement, then, was not the safety of the Australian public. It was simply founded on the personal prejudice (I hate guns) of the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard who exploited the Port Arthur tragedy to advance his agenda of prohibition. The Australian hunting and sport shooting culture lives on, but in a form that is decidedly limited and is entirely at the discretion of bureaucrats in the Australian state. The state of the hunting and sport shooting culture in Australia remains fresh in my mind as I continue to press for the repeal of the Canadian Firearms Act. I am often accused of being paranoid, but the fact there are elements of the Liberal Party of Canada, the very same party that imposed the Canadian Firearms Act in 1995 who would have the Australian model of prohibition imposed.
The following resolution was proposed by the Young Liberals of Canada at the Liberal Party of Canada’s biennial convention held in Montreal on February 20-23, 2014, for consideration of Liberal Party of Canada policy:
WHEREAS the Australian Conservative government of John Howard successfully reduced the number of firearms in that country through proactive initiatives such as gun buybacks which led to decreases in the rates of firearm-related crimes, homicides and suicides;
BE IT RESOLVED that the primary objective of a Liberal government firearms policy shall be reducing the number of firearms in Canada through initiatives inspired by the Australian model. (Fewer guns less violence)
While the resolution was rejected, this comes as small consolation and demonstrates unequivocally, what drives prohibitionists is not a heartfelt concern for public safety, but fear and loathing of firearms and contempt for those of us who choose to own and use firearms for legitimate sporting purposes. Call me paranoid if you must, but I am not assuaged by the mealy mouthed assurances from prohibitionists and slippery politicians who insist they are not after my guns. It happened in Australia and it can easily happen here if Canada’s gun owners do not stand up for themselves and actively marshal legal and political representation to ensure that hunting and shooting sports remain an integral part of Canadian culture.
Posted by Geoffrey
I realise your Canadian context but I got caught up in pursuing the US circumstances because I knew their firearm homicide rates would be dreadful in comparison to the other countries mentioned and I wanted to try to find some social values or personal attributes to explain how with high gun prevalence in Switzerland and the US the consequences could be so different. I do think there’s something to the civic engagement measurement to explain the difference and as I said, if people want the right of access to guns then surely they have an entailed responsibility to contribute to understanding how gun misuse can be minimised and to advocate for those measures. By this I mean more than individual gun safety training, but some far broader and richer social adjustment to facilitate a society less apt to produce violence and lawlessness. (This is what I hoped the Civic Engagement measure which Switzerland and the US were weak in might point to).
It’s difficult to know if Howard really does hate guns because he was/is a consummate populist. Gun ownership is often an area of difference between me and my North American friends. I don’t like having them around or in the house. But it is true that it’s more accurately ‘people’ who kill people than guns – though again, my spontaneous violence against someone is less likely to be deadly if I get violent with a less deadly weapon.
The firearm homicide rate in Australia where there are about 15 firearms per 100 people the firearm related homicide rate is about 0.1 per 100,000 population or 10% of murders.
In Sweden, 30% of people own guns and the rate of murder by homicide is 0.2 per 100,000 population (double Australia).
Switzerland has the 3rd highest rate of private firearm ownership in the world with one gun for every two human beings. Two-and-a-half times the proportion of homicides in Switzerland are committed by firearm compared with Sweden so even though Switzerland’s overall homicide rate is 30% less than that of Sweden, the prevalence of death by gun there is worse.
In the United States there are enough guns for every person and for there to be left over guns. There, the murder rate is 5 per 100,000 population (5 times the rate of the previously mentioned countries. 3.6 of these 5 murders per 100,000 of the population was accomplished by gun. If those murders were ignored the rate would be 1.4 per 100,000 population which is a lot more like the other countries examined.
But how can going from 1 gun per 2 persons to 1 gun per person “result” in 5 times as much harm? As I said, I don’t believe the presence of guns in and of themselves causes the murders etc. But I think people are flawed and I don’t care to have the flawed people around me toting guns.
The OECD rates the quality of
Community support networks:
Education (access and quality):
Frankly I expected these statistics to be starker but I think the difference on the civic engagement measure is informative. If you know what else, if not the presence of guns, supports safer communities I’d like to know about it. At least then there would be some sense of what the attributes and qualities are that facilitate ‘freedom’ of gun ownership AND safety of not being shot by others. I am interested in your opinion on that.
Data from http://www.gunpolicy.org/
Thank-you for your thoughtful comment. I agree, gun ownership is a personal matter. Hunting and sport shooting are past-times I enjoy and have practiced for most of my life, entirely without incident. For those who are not interested in or disapprove of these past-times, that’s ok. No one is compelling you to take part.
As to your comment on the lethality of guns as opposed to other devices, the worst case of mass murder in the history of the city of Calgary, Alberta, was perpetrated very recently. Five young people, students at the University of Calgary, were murdered by a classmate at a house party. The murder weapon is a kitchen knife, taken from a drawer at the house. The five young people are just as dead as they would be had the murder weapon been a firearm.
I may be flawed, though I never claimed to be any better or worse than anyone else, but I have a clear sense of right and wrong. Hurting people, with or without a firearm, is the farthest thing from my mind.
I am not living in the US so I find comparisons to that society irrelevant. Here in Canada gun ownership, that is the ownership of sporting guns for hunting and sport shooting, is an integral part of our culture. It existed before Canada became a country in 1867. It continues to thrive as the older generation initiates the succeeding generation to the pleasures of hunting and sport shooting in a peaceful, respectful and safe manner. I am not going to sit idly by hoping someone like John Howard comes does not come along and try to legislate Canada’s gun culture out of existence.
Thanks again for the comment. 🙂