Guns and short memories

The Sydney Morning Herald reports today on some research finding that the tightened gun laws post the Port Arthur massacre have had essentially no effect on reducing murder.

The only area where the package of Commonwealth and State laws, known as the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) may have had some impact was on the rate of suicide, but the study said the evidence was not clear and any reductions attributable to the new gun rules were slight.

“Homicide patterns (firearm and non-firearm) were not influenced by the NFA, the conclusion being that the gun buyback and restrictive legislative changes had no influence on firearm homicide in Australia,” the study says.

Despite quoting Don Weatherburn, the NSW statistician, at the end of the article, they fail to mention that he had come to pretty much the same conclusion in a statement he made almost exactly a year ago, which I referred to in an earlier piece on 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 …

It seems like lazy journalism not to mention that this is not an exceptionally new finding, and shouldn’t be reported in a way that makes it sounds controversial and new. Not even a mention of this accords with other findings.

While I haven’t followed this extremely closely it appears from US statistics on this that there is at best a very weak link between banning guns and reducing homicide. I suspect because it does nothing, in the first instance at least, to illegal guns.

Update: Andrew Leigh makes some good points regarding the validity of the test. Not withstanding this, I think its still difficult to say the gun laws have made a clear difference.

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7 Responses to Guns and short memories

  1. A lot of Bowling for Columbine is a little suspect in terms of balance (like all good polemic, perhaps?) but one apparently good point was his question as to why Canadians (recent events not withstanding) own a lot of guns and don’t kill each other. A quick scout around the web suggests that this is actually rubbish in that there are far fewer guns per capita in Canada which kind of of undermines the film’s intuitively attractive thesis that gun crime is a cultural problem, not a legal one.

    Still, the Coalition for Gun Control in Canada cites the following statistics (http://www.guncontrol.ca/Content/TheCaseForGunControl.html) claiming a clear link between households with guns and firearm injury. My personal suspicion is that there is no clear immediate causal link between any kind of legislation and any associated behavioural change but that behaviour does eventually follow regulation.

    I’d also comment that there can’t be any doubt that fewer guns per household means fewer domestic incidents or accidents involving guns. And that can’t be a bad thing.

  2. Steve says:

    There is no doubt there is a link between the number of accidents and the number of guns.

    However, as was pointed out in Freakanomics, it is more dangerous to your children to have a pool in your backyard than a gun in the house. These things are trade offs increasing risk for benefits. Just a question of where we draw the line of limiting choices to protect people from themselves.

  3. Andrew Leigh says:

    After Bowling for Columbine came out, a fellow PhD student of mine tried to find a study – any study – in which Canadian gun ownership rates were the same as US rates. Eventually, he went to Mike Moore, who wasn’t able to substantiate it.

  4. Rod says:

    Personally I beleive that once men and women get to 40 or so, have a university degree, been on a Jury, and perhaps been a JP, a lifesaver or a volunteer bush firery, have no criminal record and are law abiding they should be required to pack heat all the time.

    Imagine if your’e a crim and know that 1 out of every 10 people has a gun, knows how to use it, and has “dipolmatic immunity” in using it similar to Steven Segal in the movie “above the law”.

    youd be pretty careful wouldn’t you?

  5. Graham Bell says:

    Rod,
    That’s a tempting and frequently stated scenario ….. and it comes fairly close what were the requirements for pistol ownership way back when I was a kid (change business/property ownership for degree though). .

    However, it doesn’t work and furthermore, it puts older people at risk of being attacked by younger criminals just for their firearms. The scenario comes apart because it depends so much on the older repectable gun-owner being alert, forewarned or at least very suspicious, fully aware of the surroundings, fit, confident, well-practiced, in good light …. and on encountering the younger crook whose evil intentions are manifest, who is alone and not in company, who is within only thirty degrees to the front. etc., etc.,

    Nice thought but ……

  6. Rod says:

    Good points GB

    I just like the thought of all these old Vietnam ara beard/hessian bag wearing greeny/lefties being forced to pack heat to protect young ungrateful pro-war howard voting gen-xers like myself.

  7. Graham Bell says:

    Rod:
    Off-target, different ammunition …. and wrong range. 🙂

    But at least your heart is in the right place.

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