Firearm deaths in Australia after law reform

Med Sci Law 2010;50:53
doi:10.1258/msl.2009.009001
© 2010 British Academy of Forensic Science

 

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Letters to the Editor


Simon Chapman PhD FASSA 


School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney 2006, Australia

Email: sc{at}med.usyd.edu.au



The gun lobbyists McPhedran and Baker1 write of their concern about the ‘misleading picture’ painted by Lynch and Black2 regarding the impact of Australia’s major gun lawreforms of 1996 on firearm deaths. Readers may value the followinginformation in considering who is being misleading here.

In 1996, Australia’s Federal and state governments acted to radically reform gun laws, following a gunman killing 35 civilians at a tourist site, using two military style semi-automatic weapons. This incident was the 13th mass shooting in 15 years in which five or more victims died.3 Key components of the law reforms were effectively to ban all semi-automatic long arms and rapid-action shotguns from civilian ownership; amnesties and market-price gun buybacks in which more than 820,000 firearms were removed from the community;4 the formal repudiation of self-defenceas a legally acknowledged reason to own a gun; and a requirementthat all firearms be registered.

In the 13 years and eight months since the law reforms, there have been no mass shootings. While the rate of firearm homicide was reducing by an average of 3% per year prior to the law reforms, this increased to 7.5% per year after the introduction of the new laws, although this failed to reach statistical significance (P = 0.15) only because of the low power inherent in the small numbers involved.3 Firearm-related suicides in men declined from 3.4 deaths per 100,000 person years in 1997 to 1.3 per 100,000 person years, representing a decline of 59.9%. The rate of all other suicides declined from 19.9 deaths per 100,000 person-years in 1997 to 15.0 per 100,000 person-years in 2005, representing a decline of 24.5%. The yearly change in firearm-related suicides in men was –8.7% (95% confidence interval [CI] –10.2% to –7.0%), and the yearly change in other suicides was –4.1% (95% CI –4.7% to –3.5%), less than half the rate of fall in firearm suicide.5

McPhedran and Baker fail to note the reason why the law reforms occurred. An analogy may assist in appreciating the significance of this omission. Imagine if a government addressed recurrent episodes of multiple-occupant level-crossing car/train collisions by mandating alarmed barrier gates. A decade later, the obvious question to ask would be, ‘Have there been fewer level crossing collisions and fatalities?’ Asking ‘Have there been fewer road toll deaths from any cause?’ could provide bonus information about possible collateral benefits of the intervention but would not be the main question to ask. The outlawing of rapid-fire rifles and shotguns in the revised Australian gun laws was the equivalent of level-crossing barrier-gate legislation: its primary intention was to reduce mass shootings, a national concern after the Port Arthur massacre. Accelerating the reduction in overall firearm deaths – as occurred – is a bonus, particularly as the data show that there is no evidence of method substitution for either suicide or homicide.3

McPhedran and Baker have repeatedly sought to repudiate these outcomes1,6 using methods that have been heavily criticized.5,7 The reforms were strongly supported by citizens and constantly framed by Australia’s then Prime Minister, John Howard, as a way of preventing Australia from travelling ‘down the American road’ of gun deaths and violence. The USA has 14 times Australia’s population,8,9 146 times its firearm suicide deaths (16,883 versus 116 in 2006),10,11 and 474 times Australia’s firearm homicide rate (12,791 in 2006 versus 27 in 2006/7).10,12 While news of the latest gun massacre in the United Statesremains depressingly common, Australians today enjoy a muchsafer community.

Competing interests: From 1992 to 1997 Simon Chapman was a memberof the Coalition for Gun Control (Australia).




REFERENCES

TOP

REFERENCES

 

  1. McPhedran S, Baker J. Australian homicide: no significant impact on gun laws. Med Sci Law 2008;48:270[Free Full Text]
  2. Lynch M, Black M. A tale of two cities: a review of homicide in Melbourne and Glasgow. Med Sci Law 2008;48:24–30[Abstract/Free Full Text]
  3. Chapman S, Alpers P, Agho K, Jones M. Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearm deaths, firearm suicides, and a decade without mass shootings. Injury Prev 2006;12:365–72[Abstract/Free Full Text]
  4. Alpers P. Australia’s firearm collection and destruction programs: the world’s largest gun buyback. Testimony to the National Senate of Argentina, Buenos Aires, 6 December 2006
  5. Chapman S, Hayen A. Declines in Australian suicide: a reanalysis of McPhedran and Baker. Health Policy 2008;88:152–4[Medline]
  6. Baker J, McPhedran S. Gun laws and sudden death: did the Australian firearms legislation of 1996 make a difference? Br J Criminol 2007;47:455–69[Abstract/Free Full Text]
  7. Neill C, Leigh A. Weak Tests and Strong Conclusions: A Re-analysis of Gun Deaths and the Australian Firearms Buyback. Centre for Economic Policy Research, Australian National University. Discussion Paper 555, June 2007. See http://econrsss.anu.edu.au/pdf/DP555.pdf (last checked 7 January 2010)
  8. US Census Bureau Population Clock. See http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html (last checked 7 January 2010)
  9. Australian Bureau of Statistics Population Clock. See http://www.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/[email protected]/0/1647509ef7e25faaca2568a900154b63?OpenDocument (last checked 7 January 2010)
  10. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports 1999–2006. Centers for Disease Control. http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_sy.html (last checked 7 January 2010)
  11. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Causes of death, Australia 2007. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@nsf/Products/9B8B1A46FD3B9FBACA25757C001EF6A8?opendocument (last checked 7 January 2010)
  12. Dearden J, Jones W. Homicide in Australia 2006–7. National Homicide Monitoring Program Annual Report. Australian Institute of Criminology AID Monitoring Reports 0, 2008. http://www.aic.gov.au/documents/F/F/B/(FFB9E49F-160F-43FC-B98D-6BC510DC2AFD)mr01.pdf (last checked 7 January 2010)

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