Gun amnesty bit of a misfire

By Gavin McGrath
Updated November 2 2012 - 1:39am, first published October 13 2009 - 12:58pm
Gun amnesty bit of a misfire

ANOTHER year, another gun amnesty. And yet another photo op involving an earnest police officer lookingserious and concerned in front of a pile of firearms.It looks such an important and effective exercise in community policing. Let’s get all these nasty (cue scarymusic) guns off the street.Except, if I may borrow a phrase from the English lass at work, it’s bollocks.The amnesty and previous gun buy-back schemes are, for all practical purposes, public relations exercises. The effect on violent crime rates would be negligible because the sort of person who might hand in an old rifle at the cop shop is not exactly the type of ‘‘person of interest’’ associated with violent crime.That sad collection of museum pieces and rusty old .22s pictured in The Courier last week, looked sinister enough but hardly constituted a menace to society. You see,criminals will always find ways to get illegal firearms or explosives or whatever, when they want to.It’s convenient to come up with feel-good schemes like amnesties and buy backs. It looks like something’s beingdone to reduce crime.But the problem is not the gun in the first place. The only real way to reduce crime, is to reduce the number ofcriminals on the street.In a sense, firearmrelated deaths come under the samecategory as shark attacks. Every year many more people die of other preventable causes, but guns, like sharks, make the best headlines.Let’s look at the facts.According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics RecordedCrime — Victims, Australia, 2008 paper there were 1.2 murder victims per 100,000 people in Australia. Of those, only 12 per cent involved firearms. So, given a population of 22 million, simple arithmetic gives us justover 30 gun murders in 2008 — a number still too high, especially for the families of those concerned. But not anumber that is any way going to be affected by our little amnesty.Just under 10 per cent of suicides involve firearms (a proportion that has steadily declined, even as the youth suicide rate increases) while, even among unintentionaldeaths, poisons kill twice as many people each year as guns.There are a whole host of other things in society that, statistically at least are as dangerous as any individual gun.Like swimming pools, for example. An average of 40 people a year drown in swimming pools. There areanywhere between three and six times as many guns in Australia as backyard pools, so mathematically, a poolis as dangerous as a rifle.More likely hamburgers kill far more people each yearthan firearms.Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet for reducing crime,violent or otherwise, that doesn’t require spending lots of money.American economists Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner point out in their book Freakonomics (2005)that criminals, like everyone else, respond to incentives. If the likelihood of getting caught is increased and the punishments are increasingly dire, then many criminals simply back out because it’s not worth the risk.Hiring more police and putting criminals in jail for longer —especially if they use a weapon when committing theircrimes — is expensive, but it works. It mightn’t make as good a photo op as our amnesty or making gun laws evenstricter than they already are, but that’s not the point.You know I’m right about this.

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