Following the Monash University killings, the Australian police
ministers' plan to ban most handguns not used in target shooting has
smoked out the same claptrap arguments from the gun lobby that insulted
the community after Port Arthur. In The
Sydney Morning Herald on 11 November, Lisa Oldfield,
spokeswoman for gun dealers, fired a volley of blanks in a memorable
Canute-like effort to turn the tide of gun law reform.
Her most astonishing statement was "no reasonable person can
confuse guns used by criminals as having any relationship to firearms
owned by licensed, law-abiding sporting shooters". Call me
unreasonable, but the Australian Institute of Criminology website reveals
that 25,171 guns were reported stolen between 1994 and 2000 - about 12 a
day, with 81 per cent stolen from homes and 14 per cent being handguns.
Like a broken record from 1996, Oldfield provided a series of health
problems, comparing their larger death tolls with those from guns, saying
we "accept" these other problems and then arguing that we should
just leave gun deaths alone because only 60 people are murdered with guns
each year. So we should all give up trying to control measles, polio and
other now thankfully rare infectious diseases.
Cervical and breast cancer specialists should down tools and work on
lung cancer because far more die from smoking. And backyard pool infant
drowning? Forget it - only a few dozen a year now.
And then she claimed nothing is being done about road deaths (federal
budget expenditure alone, an average of $38.1 million from 1996) and
medical accidents (every hospital in the country has expensive quality
assurance procedures). Efforts to reduce speed "have done
little". So why does Australia have the world's best record of
reducing the road toll - 38 per cent between 1988 and 1997?
Oldfield's straw man nonsense is that those who want to prevent gun
deaths believe that these would "miraculously stop if all guns were
banned", pointing to the failure of other public health control
measures to completely eliminate illicit drug use and speeding. With the
exception of the amazing track record of immunisation against diseases
like smallpox (eliminated) and polio (on the same track), public health
workers only dream of eliminating all disease. The main objective is to
Perhaps most appalling is her questioning whether the 1996 gun law
reforms and buyback saved any lives. After Port Arthur, our police
ministers banned semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns preferred in mass
killings because of their capacity to fire many rounds quickly and keep
police at bay.
In the six years since Port Arthur there have been no incidents in
Australia where four or more people were shot. Between 1987 and 1996, 100
people were shot dead in Australia in mass shootings including those at
Strathfield, Hoddle and Queen streets in Melbourne, and Port Arthur.
John Howard's leadership on this issue is again magnificent. We should
have as much sympathy for Oldfield's Firearm Dealers Association as we
should have for job losses among panel beaters as the road toll falls.
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