Kids and Guns:
Time for common-sense action

by Samara McPhedran

By Posted Fri Sep 21, 2007 8:27am AEST

Tasmania firearms legislation may soon be brought in line with other Australian states by allowing monitored firearms use by junior permit holders from 12 onwards.

The increasingly shrill voice of the anti-gun lobby tells us this will put a gun in the hand of every child, and cries of 'God Bless Aus-merica' on every lip.

Questions of whether Tasmanian laws should reflect other states' legislation have been obscured by a campaign of misinformation, as has the fact that nobody is proposing to alter the stipulation that under 18s are not permitted to own a firearm or use a firearm without strictest supervision.

There is no evidence-based justification for opposing the controlled introduction of juniors to legal shooting activities. The only excuse given is a vague muttering about tough gun laws being a moral imperative for avoiding "US gun culture".

An increasing body of peer-reviewed research, including by the Australian Institute of Criminology, shows the 1996 gun bans and $500 million buyback scheme did not impact on the pre-existing decline in firearm homicides.

The majority of firearm homicide perpetrators are unlicensed. Despite our tough gun laws, young men use illegally obtained firearms in the course of crimes that are all too often drug-related.

In contrast, consider the young people interested in learning about legal firearms use, and judged by their parents or guardians as ready for the responsibility. They know their participation depends on staying on the right side of the law, and that involvement with violence or drugs will bring an end to legal firearms use.

Under the direct supervision of adults who have been approved by police to handle firearms, they are taught that the "US gun culture" seen on television is not the Australian way. They learn the only "gun culture" should be one of safe and sensible use.

NZ laws 'world class'

Some take the ideological view that any "gun culture" is negative, but New Zealand proves otherwise.

New Zealand has higher gun ownership and lower firearms abuse per head of population than Australia, and does not expend scarce resources policing the already compliant. Instead of bans and buybacks, they emphasise voluntary training through the Mountain Safety Council, and genuine co-operation and consultation between the firearms community, police, and government.

Like Australia, New Zealand has not had a public mass shooting in over a decade, even though licensed New Zealanders still use the types of firearms Australia banned.

Why there has not been a mass shooting despite the availability of these firearms remains unexplained, and poses significant challenges for those who believe the 1996 bans are responsible for preventing mass shootings in Australia.

The New Zealand model has been hailed 'world class' by Mr Tsutomu Ishiguri, Director of the UN Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific. Their down-to-earth laws recognise that firearms licensees and the associated culture of responsible gun ownership do not pose a danger to the fabric of society and the morals of young people.

Illegally used firearms, and the circumstances surrounding their possession, are where we should place our attention. Preventing our future champions from taking their first steps on a lifelong path of achievement, and discouraging motivated young women from following the positive example set by our highly successful Olympic and Commonwealth female shooters, cannot achieve this.

Rather, we must recognise that allowing disadvantage, social exclusion, and gross inequality to permeate our society is what can lead us down the US path. If we commit to tackling these issues, then we truly stand a chance of protecting young people.

Preventing young people from learning about firearms from suitably licensed adults has no bearing on protecting youths.

Labelling young people with an interest in using firearms in a supervised environment as an undesirable element of the community contributes nothing to protecting the teens who are at real risk of being drawn towards crime, or are already involved in the justice system.

Legal firearms ownership in Australia is not the harbinger of apocalypse created by gun prohibitionists' fertile imaginings. Their rhetoric does not withstand scrutiny, containing only tired slogans where once there were great promises of a safer Australia. Sadly those promises were never about compassion, equality, or progressive social policy - qualities that are key to making Australia a better place for future generations.

With no factual support to justify further restrictions upon legal firearms use, anti-gun lobbyists must find the courage to accept that demanding change on the basis of stringency alone, or decrying modification as "watering down", does not engender effective policy. It encourages simplistic dichotomies between good and bad that actively impede debate and progress.

So when it comes to kids and guns, or guns in general, it is time for commonsense - exactly what the Tasmanian Government is trying its best to use.


Samara McPhedran is chair of Women in Shooting and Hunting (WiSH) and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Psychology at Sydney University.


Copyright 2007