We at A1F Daily were a bit surprised when a feature of ours on the Australian gun buyback/confiscation of 1996 that took place in the wake of the Port Arthur Massacre made a media splash, inspiring more than its fair share of vitriol. Australian newspapers reported on the article, and even sites as big as Buzzfeed and Mashable featured hasty attempts at rebuttals. Our surprise was due largely to the fact that we hadn’t stated anything the least bit radical. The evidence is out there if you’re looking for it.
We cited a couple of studies arguing a lack of evidence for the effectiveness of the gun-control program, but there are more out there. Last year the NRA Institute for Legislative Action drew up a good summary of what we know about the buyback’s effects, and John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center wrote a report for the Australian government. These are worth reading if you enjoy nuanced, responsible analysis of statistics.
Yet if you listen to the narrative provided by the anti-gun media, we’re the ones who are ignoring the credible statistics. The success of the Australian buyback is clear, they say: Mass shootings are down! Gun-related homicides are down! What could be simpler?
The problem is that defenders of Australian gun control are moving the goalposts. If we assume that the architects of the 1996 National Firearms Agreement had the best intentions, their goal was to lower the murder rate overall—not to only target murders that happen to be committed with firearms or that happen to be committed at the same time. Any policy that only aspired to lessen the frequency of certain types of murders would be cynical in the extreme.If we assume that the architects of the 1996 National Firearms Agreement had the best intentions, their goal was to lower the murder rate overall—not to only target murders that happen to be committed with firearms or that happen to be committed at the same time.
Of particular concern is the exclusive focus on firearm-related homicides. Both elements contained in this compound term are extremely problematic. First, a decline in the percentage of killings committed with guns is meaningless when there is a corresponding increase in the percentage committed with knives and other weapons. The same number of people are dying. Knife crime in London has increased since the handgun ban in England and Wales went into effect—why would Australia be any different?
In fact, it’s not. Statistics show a definite upward trend for knife crime in Australia. If the only thing the confiscation changed is what kind of weapon you’re most likely to be murdered with, this is a hollow victory indeed.
The other problem is that citing homicide statistics without examining whether the homicides in question are justified glosses over the existence of self-defense incidents. In the United States, when a law-abiding citizen is attacked by a criminal and defends himself or herself with a firearm, most of us see this as a win—even if the attacker dies. If the criminal stabs the victim, we treat this as a loss—even if the victim lives. This type of moral logic is entirely obscured when we fail to distinguish between types of homicide.
As a thought experiment, consider the tragic and notorious murder of Carol Bowne in New Jersey. Bowne tried to purchase a handgun in order to defend herself from an ex-boyfriend who was threatening her life. Bureaucratic hurdles kept her unarmed, and eventually her ex stabbed her to death in her driveway. Had she been able to defend herself, the likely result would have been a firearm-related homicide of the ex: a bad outcome, according to the defenders of Australian gun control. But since she could not, the outcome was zero firearm-related homicides—just that one knife incident that they’re not concerned with measuring. This is what progress looks like to them.
Those who point to the supposedly abundant evidence for the success of the Australian gun buyback/confiscation are, in fact, answering questions we didn’t ask. Has this enormous sacrifice of liberty led to a visible decrease in the overall homicide rate? Has it lessened the number of law-abiding citizens being victimized? The answer to both of these is a resounding NO. That’s the evidence that matters. The rest is just window dressing.