America, don’t repeat Australia’s gun control mistake

After the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, media hysteria and bipartisan political support for punishing gun owners increased. As a consequence, our gun laws were tightened.

We could have all responded like rational human beings and grieved for the deceased (35 in all). Instead, militant anti-gun activists viewed the massacre as an opportunity, and set out to punish freedom.

Hitler supported gun control. So did Stalin. Still, our activists were bent on portraying the gun-tolerant United States as the real menace. “Australia doesn’t want to end up like the Wild West,” went one common argument.

Yet, in 2011, I’m compelled to ask: When will we learn from our mistakes and admit we were wrong? And I ask this question because many Australians are victims of violence. In contrast, for criminals and their enablers, “gun control” is the gift that keeps on giving.

Take Melbourne, Australia’s second most populous city. Between January 16, 1998 and April 19, 2010, 36 criminal figures or partners were murdered during the Melbourne Gangland Killings.

Alas, family environments, from businesses to parks, were drawn into the mess.

The passage of gun control laws fueled our illegal arms market, and gun-hungry gangs multiplied. The significance: many gangland deaths/wars involved bullets. The tribal fights exploded after the Port Arthur massacre-inspired gun laws, against mainstream media predictions.

To concerned Victorians, too, it felt like our criminal class was running the state. The problem though (in Australia at least) is that campaigning newspapers and television networks are never wrong — no matter how many people are killed or threatened by guns, there’s always a “complex” excuse.

The odd thing about gun control is that a culture of censorship often increases after anti-gun laws fail to deliver. So, it would be hard for an Australian writer to submit a piece on Switzerland’s pro-gun ownership culture and low gun crime rate because our media isn’t “ready” to accept opposing views. Only a “thought control” culture can sustain a “gun control” culture.

When one punishes law-abiding citizens for the sins of criminals, good intentions will backfire. By criminalizing productive citizens, we have made life easier for criminals, and wasted precious police resources on policing farmers.

Moreover, Australians were wrong to exchange scare stories about the “Wild West” because few understood that the Old West was not so wild, according to modern historians. And, we’re still too quick to report on massacres in firearm-welcoming America and too reluctant to report on bigger massacres in firearm-restricting Mexico. We’re quick to report on shootouts across the U.S. but unwilling to report on thousands of Americans who were saved by pointing their easy-to-access guns at criminals, a.k.a. would-be thieves, murderers and rapists.

Also lost in the emotion is the fact that the alleged Arizona killer, Jared Lee Loughner, adored Mein Kampf, by the National Socialist/gun control dictator Adolph Hitler (not More Guns, Less Crime, by John Lott). So, do we need to reward and/or excuse society’s killers?

At times like these, it’s easy to fall prey to post-massacre opportunists. Still, reason and not emotion is our best guide. The facts (to quote the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia) are as follows:

  • Between July 1 1997 and 30 June 1999 nine in ten offenders of firearm-related homicide were unlicensed firearm owners.

  • Raw data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reveals that while suicide by firearms is continuing to decrease from a high in the 1980s, suicide by hanging steadily increased throughout the 1990s and increased for three consecutive years after the 1996 buy-back.

  • In the year 2002/2003, over 85% of firearms used to commit murder were unregistered. Recent legislation introduced by all states further strengthened controls on access to legitimate handguns by sporting shooters.

  • The AIC’s ‘Homicide in Australia: 2006-07 National Homicide Monitoring Program annual report’ stated that 93 per cent of firearms involved in homicides had never been registered and were used by unlicensed individuals.

Gun control is a myth, or rather a mountain of myths sustained by campaigning elites in secure buildings with armed bodyguards: the myth that if law-abiding citizens hand their guns over to the big government to burn, then we will enter a new peace; the myth that if we feel that we are gun controllers, then we are humanitarian citizens even when statistics undermine our self-praising image; and the myth that punishing thousands of farmers and sporting shooters, for the crimes of others, will bring healing. But we (meaning anti-gun Australians) were (and are) wrong.

Ben-Peter Terpstra is a freelance writer based in regional Victoria, Australia. He has lived and worked in the Northern Territory, Melbourne, Kyoto and London (England).

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  • leftcoast

    In context the 36 gun murders in 12 years figure refers to a particular ongoing organized crime dispute. If you look up state of Victoria crime figures by local government area (available at http://www.police.vic.gov.au/content.asp?a=internetBridgingPage&Media_ID=59798 ) there were 16 homicides in 2008/2009 (and only 4 in 2009/2010, which may be a partial year figure). It is difficult to tell what proportion of the yearly homicides are by gunfire without more information.

    The example of Mexico is perhaps more telling from an American perspective. Mexican gun laws have been much more restrictive than American laws since at least the early 1950’s, yet the national homicide rate is around triple the American one. Only 8% of the weapons seized in Mexico were originally sold to civilians in the United States– despite the massive hype from both the Mexican and American governments to depict Mexico’s homicides as the result of “lax” American regulation.

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  • thephranc

    Common sense isn’t so common.

  • cong

    You sound like you have some sort of manhood insecurity issue, dude. In the Marine Corps they taught us that our mind was our primary weapon not our, er, gun. Try therapy.

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  • Pottering

    The apparent mistake that Ben-Peter wants Americans to avoid is that a law with the specific aim of reducing the possibility of firearm mass-murders has seen ZERO firearm mass murders in the 14 years since. Wasn’t there a firearm mass murder in Arizona just the other day?

    Additionally since the 1996 guns laws the murder rate has dropped by a third. The predominant statistical factor for that fall has been the decline in firearm murders. The Australian murder rate is a quarter of the US rate.

    Pizza Trays then idiotically shrieks that “crime went up overall”‘. Apart from providing no evidence of this, he/she fails to appreciate that “overall crime” can hardly be impcated by a law that involved only about 4% of crime, violent crime using guns. I suppose they’d have us believe that any increase in fraud or graffiti could be linked to gun control measures?

  • sawdustking

    Gun control in this country is losing steam because people have been able to see it’s effects in comparison to where there is little gun control. More and more people realize that the places with strict gun control have the highest murder and crime rates and the places with very little gun control have the lowest murder and crime rates. It’s kind of hard to not notice actually. Unfortunately our areas with strict gun control are so violent that our overall murder rate is higher than most industrialized countries and people in those countries often point to America and think it proves the need for strict gun control when the opposite is actually true.

    • memc

      The best example of finger pointers is Mexico. With strict gun control, Mexico leaves the people unarmed with dead mayors and cops or mayors and cops bought by drug cartels. There is little to no help with shoot outs or a dead body with a message telling people to get out of house/town or else. Can’t send kids to school because they are a great leverage in threatening or holding towns hostage. When that fails, shutting down utilities works too.

      But, hey, let’s blame America. No matter that enabling public servants are bought and paid for by drug cartels or dead.

  • gooners

    Wait, your argument is that in 12 years, 1998-2010, a city of 4 million people had 36 gun murders? My American city of about 50,000 has that many in 4 years. Melbourne’s gun murder rate would be great.

    • Pizza Trays

      “Wait, your argument is that in 12 years, 1998-2010, a city of 4 million people had 36 gun murders? My American city of about 50,000 has that many in 4 years. Melbourne’s gun murder rate would be great.”

      B.P.Terpstra here: That was just one example! The big picture: crime went up overall, not down across Australian cities. Still, it reinforces the fact that “gun control” doesn’t usher in a new age of peace. Let me repeat: our streets are not safer after gun-control laws. I speak from experience.

      • gooners

        Ah. If you want to impress Americans and change gun control supporters’ minds, you’ll have to come with a higher murder rate than that. In the big cities 36 murders is a relatively peaceful year, and, sometimes, a really bad day at school. Nothing’s shocking anymore.