opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald
IT SHOULD be troubling to
Australian governments that since 1988, after more than 1 million guns
have been destroyed as a result of government buyback programs, numerous
amnesties, voluntary returns, the banning of semi-automatic weapons and
the tightening of gun import controls, the number of guns in private
hands in Australia is as large as it has ever been.
It's not hard to see why. Since 1988, while governments have been running
variety of gun control programs, 1,055,082 firearms have been imported
into the country, an average of almost 44,000 a year. As a result, there
are now as many guns in private hands in Australia as there was at the
time of the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, when there were an estimated
3.2 million firearms in the country.
With millions of guns in
private hands, it was always going to happen that one day someone would
go on a shooting rampage, and fate chose a pretty place in Tasmania,
where 35 people were killed and another 23 wounded by a lone gunman.
The killings galvanised the then prime minister, John Howard, and
state governments, and after ownership of semi-automatic weapons was
banned and a series of buybacks, the number of guns fell and the risk of
an Australian dying by gunshot fell by more than half.
We are now
back to having more than 3 million guns in private hands. Admittedly,
Australia has more than 4 million more people than it did in 1996, so
the rate of gun ownership is lower, but the number of guns is not. These
figures come from a study by Philip Alpers at the University of Sydney
released this week. Two statistics contained in the study are troubling.
One is that Australia's rate of gun homicides, at 0.13 per 100,000
people, is four time higher than in Britain, where the rate is just
Another troubling statistic is the rate of gun homicide in
Switzerland. The Swiss have national military service and an extensive
army reserve program, which means there are guns in most homes.
Switzerland is held up by the gun lobby in support of the adage that
guns don't kill, people do.
It turns out that Switzerland is not
the paragon it appears. The rate of homicides involving guns in
Switzerland is 0.52, four times higher than the Australian rate and more
than double the rates in France and Germany. The only nation that makes
Switzerland look good is the United States, which is so far above all
other advanced economies, with a rate of 3.59 gun homicides per 100,000
people, that it is in a category of its own, with a grisly sequence of
gun massacres to show for it.
Australia's rate of gun homicides is
just 3.6 per cent of the rate in the US, which points to a very
different, less violent gun culture, and successful gun controls. During
the past 25 years, federal and state governments conducted 38 amnesties
that resulted in 728,667 guns being handed back in return for
compensation. Overall, more than 1 million guns were handed in during