catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The Gun Buyback Failure

with 20 comments

The SMH is reporting today on new research that shows  Australia’s gun buyback scheme  had no impact on the rate of decline in firearm homicide rates in Australia.

Carried out by two Australian academics, the research is published in the British Journal of Criminology. [The abstract is available online but it looks like you need to be a registered user to get the full article.]

I expect this research is going to get a lot of interest – and criticism. The ‘cheap shot’ criticism will be that the research should be dismissed because the researchers are affiliated with shooting organisations. However they’ve declared this up front and have had their research published in a peer reviewed journal – not some form of vanity press.

Hopefully this research will generate some genuine discussion and debate about the effectiveness of buy-back schemes and firearm laws in general. And maybe, just maybe – critics will focus on the research itself and not who it was carried out by.

Written by Admin

October 24, 2006 at 7:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

20 Responses

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  1. Who is surprised?

    Rafe Champion

    October 24, 2006 at 7:52 am

  2. Its not exactly a new and challenging result, the NSW stastician said almost exactly the same last year. I think its pretty well established that tighter gun laws have little effect on reducing general homicide levels.

    However, as well as the reduction in suicides, there is also the fact that there has been no mass shootings since the laws compared with several before the paper doesn’t mention this from what I heard on the radio.

    Steve Edney

    October 24, 2006 at 8:24 am

  3. The things you see when you haven’t got a gun


    October 24, 2006 at 8:37 am

  4. Through the magic of library subscriptions I’ve now a copy of the paper saved on my HD. HeathG, if you want a copy, email me and I’ll send it over.

    The post of this title is misleading, by the way: there has been a continuing decline in firearm morbidity in Australia over the past twenty years, something Baker and McPhedran acknowledge: hardly a ‘failure’ by any standards. They’re contesting the rate at which the decline is occurring, and assumptions about who is affected.
    One assumption that’s implicit, but that they don’t articulate, is the obvious one—that if the Port Arthur gun laws haven’t affected the rate of decline in gun deaths, it’s because law-abiding responsible owners of guns unaffected by the laws are also consistently using them in murders and suicides.


    October 24, 2006 at 9:16 am

  5. Liam,

    If the gun buyback scheme had a cost, but didn’t change the rate of decline, why isn’t it a failure. It seems we incurred a cost for no marginal benefit. Note – in my title I’m specifically talking about the buy-back scheme, rather than firearm laws in general.

    Does the article have any discussion on the incidence of homicide by other means? i.e. is the proportion of homicides via firearms declning? is use of knives in homicides rising? Guess I’m really interested in here wether there is a substitition effect in play , within the context ov\f overall declines in homicide rates.


    October 24, 2006 at 9:33 am

  6. I’m not surprised, Rafe. The buyback was a kneejerk reaction to the Port Arthur massacre and was only intended to be action for the sake of being seen to take action.

    Homicide is deliberate killing. If you are looking to kill someone deliberately, then any gun will do. Therefore reducing the number of high-powered guns floating around won’t have any real effect on gun murder rates.

    Does the study look at accidental shooting deaths as well? Because Howard did claim that all gun-related deaths would fall, not just homicides.

    HeathG, how do we know it didn’t change the rate of decline? Maybe the decline would have reduced, stopped, or reversed if the buyback had not been put in place. This is an example of the higher-interest-rates-under-Labor type of argument, and so doesn’t hold much water, but is still a (weak) defence against definitive statements like “The policy has made no difference.”

    Perhaps an unmeasurable side effect of the buyback might be to reinforce the predominant guns-aren’t-all-that-great culture that we are lucky to have in Australia. Social attitudes towards firearms seem to be the determining factor in whether they are a problem or not, as explored in Bowling For Columbine. Such attitudes can change in the long term, and laws go a long way in shaping those attitudes.


    October 24, 2006 at 10:01 am

  7. The worst part about all this is that they seem to be focussing on the first buy back which involved class C weapons (semi automatic rifles and shotguns) This buyback was clearly not worth the cost and probably had little effect as it only reduces legal ownership (does anyone care whether when someone commits suicide they use a semi-automatic or some other method) but it was not the stupidest waste of government money.

    That honour goes to The second buyback (which i will have to refind the cost figures for) involved purchasing back semi-automatic pistols from licensed registered shooters only for those pistols to be replaced with, wait for it, pistols with barrel lengths approx 3mm longer. further money was spent paying licensed sporting shooters to not shoot nor be a member of a club for five years, hardly a worthwhile spending of money.

    in the end, i’m reasonably ambivalent if australia wants to make a collective decision and ban guns (i can theoretically move to the US or south east asia) but spending money to crush a whole bunch of slightly shorter pistols is a joke. the money could have been spent on anything else and been a better use of taxpayer money – yes even giving it to the ABC.


    October 24, 2006 at 10:39 am

  8. As for the money being better spent, I like the study authors’ suggestion of it going to mental health instead.


    October 24, 2006 at 10:51 am

  9. I agree with whyisitso. Howard felt he had to be ‘doing’ something after Port Arthur, and a fair amount of thoughtless policy followed. I was living in Italy at the time, and remember how this story went around the world. I also remember reading an article in La Repubblica that made the mental health point, too. Even then, people knew that guns were but a small part of the wider issue.


    October 24, 2006 at 9:18 pm

  10. Pls send me a copy Liam… john.humphreys99

    Results don’t seem suprising and are consistent with most similar studies done in most countries.

    John Humphreys

    October 24, 2006 at 11:37 pm

  11. Here’s what I wrote in May 1996:

    “I think that the new laws are mostly a stupid waste of money.”


    October 25, 2006 at 1:28 am

  12. skeptic, do you mean me, not whyisitso?


    October 25, 2006 at 1:35 am

  13. Yeah I do – my bad, need to wash the crap out of my eyes!


    October 25, 2006 at 8:28 am

  14. Heath, I agree with you entirely that we shouldn’t judge the study by its authors’ affiliations. But in this case, the methodology doesn’t stand up. As I’ve argued, the study sets an impossibly high bar for the buyback – gun homicide rates had to go negative for them to find an effect.


    October 25, 2006 at 1:13 pm

  15. I’d kill to get those results

    Bring Back EP at LP

    October 25, 2006 at 1:23 pm

  16. “gun homicide rates had to go negative for them to find an effect.”

    Surprisingly, a shortage of guns won’t bring dead people back to life!

    What an abject failure.


    October 25, 2006 at 1:32 pm

  17. FDB,
    my memory has it that only one man in history was capable of negative deaths

    Bring Back EP at LP

    October 25, 2006 at 1:35 pm

  18. I didn’t realise you were quite that old, Homer but it all makes sense now. The lapses in thinking, the short attention span, etc.

    Jason Soon

    October 25, 2006 at 1:38 pm

  19. wrong,
    three men

    Bring Back EP at LP

    October 25, 2006 at 1:41 pm

  20. I can’t pretend I’m sorry about the diminished presence of guns in society generally.

    What interested me at the time were all sorts of assurances that a lower rate of gun ownership would make it easier to track illegal weapons. The authors of this study didn’t seem to examine that, but it’s worth a go. I doubt they’ll find much though.

    Andrew Elder

    October 25, 2006 at 2:20 pm

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