Guns have been in the news of late, this time for a mass shooting broadcast on live television. There is little to add to the news or analysis.
Invariably in the wake of such incidents ideologues on both sides of the gun control debate emerge, one with hysterical shrieks for public safety and the other with equally fearful pleas to retain their killing tools. Also invariably, both sides wish to bring Australia into America’s mess. To one we are a success story, to the other there is sufficient doubt to ignore the claimed success and even a few anomalies that suggest the opposite.
The truth is that the Australian comparison is of next to no value for historical reasons. The relevant details which could prove informative are separated by centuries and accordingly significant technological advancements and cultural differences.
Of all the arguments that arise, one is by far my favourite. I’ve seen it advanced by otherwise intelligent people whose opinion I would normally respect.
Gun advocates often point to Australia’s ‘rape epidemic’ as proof that gun control measures, implemented by the conservative Howard government in response to the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, have proved an abject failure for Australian citizens.
Their explanation is that tighter gun control increases crime, and it goes like this:
Since gun control limits legal gun ownership, and criminals shun the law, criminals will retain their guns while law-abiding citizens will be left vulnerable. The resultant power imbalance in favour of the criminals increases the likelihood and severity of crimes. This is the antithesis of the ‘deterrent effect’, whereby criminals must contend with the possibility their intended victim may be armed. That possibility deters potential criminals from committing an offence as they are not only less likely to succeed, but in mortal danger themselves.
It seems a perfectly reasonable argument, in theory.
To demonstrate their case, gun advocates highlight Australia’s increase in sexual assault (technically not ‘rape’ but conflating the two is a typical emotional ploy by ideologues). In the 11 years following the gun ban and buyback program, sexual assault rose by 20% from 79.4 to 95 victims per 100,000 head of population, a statistical fact that coincides perfectly with the theory.
It certainly seems plausible that banning guns has left the public vulnerable. As always, appearances can be deceiving.
Obscured by this overview is the fact that 60% of victims are 19 or under and that the 0-14 demographic (for both boys and girls) is the driving force for the increase. This poses a problem for those advocating armed self defence. How exactly is it to be combatted? By arming minors, including infants?
Fortunately for children, and society in general, the trend itself is dubious. Experts in the field have long debated the validity of the incline and the consensus is that it was mostly, if not entirely, due to increased reporting rather than an increase in crime. The trend follows educational campaigns resulting from the exposure of child abuse within the church. Thus the perceived increase is a positive sign that sexual assault is receiving due gravitas rather than a sign of social decay.
Another setback comes from the data itself.
As you can see, there was already an upwards trend before the gun ban. Following the ban, the rate remained steady for a few years. Almost the entirety of the claimed increase occurred in a 3 year period. In more recent years the trend fluctuated, then reversed and returned to slightly below 1996 levels, and then climbed once more (the most recent years are not yet included in the AIC Data Tool above). All of this occurred despite no change to the law allegedly driving an increase.
Some may believe they can see patterns in the noise but those conclusions likely say more of the prejudices of the observer than the society measured in the data.
Whatever can be drawn from the fluctuations in the data, one thing remains absolutely certain, and that is that the gun ban has not created a rape epidemic.
This is unarguable for one simple fact completely foreign to the American mindset: Australian gun laws do not permit the use of a firearm for self defence.
This was not a new law introduced at the time of the bans, either. This is the foundational difference between the two nation’s gun policies and attitudes. In Australia, gun ownership has always required a ‘good reason’. While the term officially remain undefined prior to reforms, ‘self defence’ has never been considered a legitimate reason for gun ownership. Furthermore, handguns – the firearms typically associated with self defence – have long been subject to stringent regulations. As a result, the likelihood a potential victim was armed did not change at the point in question, and the purported ‘deterrent effect’ could not have had any influence on criminal behaviour.
If we add all this up – for comedic value, which is all it is worth at this point – we must conclude that the non-change of a law which never existed has revoked the right of children to use deadly force with a firearm against their abusers, resulting in an unnoticeable impact on already indeterminate fluctuations of sexual assault statistics, and thus clearly we – and by extension, they – need more guns.
Or maybe, just maybe, they are grasping at straws.
Of course this example does not disprove the ‘self defence’ theory, but its use does demonstrate what prejudice can do to an otherwise rational mind. They need it to be true and find a rationalisation, even if that requires faulty assumptions or selective data ranges. If you see anyone using this argument, or its ‘assault’ or ‘robbery’ variant, point out their errors and raise their consciousness to their own prejudices.