Lee’s note: This is a the second part of a series that aims to educate Americans about the realities of Australia’s gun control experiment. It was written for us by Justin Luke, a self-described “family man” based in suburban Sydney.
Justin is a passionate advocate of the shooting sports and heritage, and spends as much time as possible exploring, running, climbing and hunting all over the East Coast of Australia.
We’re privileged to have him on board, because we can learn a lot from what happened to gun owners Down Under.
Here’s a link to Part 1.
Gun Control: The Australian Experience
Part 2 – Consequences
by Justin Luke
In the early hours of July 17 2003, four men armed with knives climbed over the balcony of a unit in the Sydney suburb of Newington. Entering the unit, they cut the telephone wires and used them to tie up the two adult residents, then spent two hours raping their 16-year old
daughter and stealing anything of value. As they left the apartment, one of the criminals said to the traumatised family “Next time, lock your balcony door”. Australia’s 1996 Gun Laws had ensured that the victims of crime are defenceless against their attackers.
In order to understand the consequences of Australia’s Gun Control experiment, you need to understand the concept of risk versus reward. Steinbeck said “If you ever find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck” and this applies equally to the criminal mind as the military one. Criminals do not seek out a fair fight, they seek out defenceless victims who have something they want. They seek to minimise their risk of injury and maximise the reward of their crime.
If there is a high risk of injury or retaliation and low reward, they will look elsewhere. If the risk is high but the reward is also high, this may
tempt a hardened or desperate criminal, but the high risk makes them think twice. A survey of over 1,800 felons conducted by Professors James D Wright and Peter H Rossi reveals that fear of armed citizens is one of two main deterrents to violent crime. The other deterrent is harsh penalties for using a firearm in a crime. A criminal planning a crime will weigh the risks against the reward and make a calculation – sometimes in a split second – whether or not to try elsewhere instead. If casing your neighbourhood looking for targets, a burglar is looking for specific threats, alarm systems, dogs, CCTV cameras and also sizing up avenues of approach: assessable windows or doors, side entrances which are concealed from view, anything that will give them time to force their way in undetected. If they spot deterrents that outweigh their desired reward, they will look elsewhere.
Australia’s Gun Control laws prohibit “self-defence” as a reason for owning a firearm. Australia has no “stand your ground” laws, and there is a broad uncertainty around self-defence in general. While the law does allow a person to use “reasonable force” to defend their lives, the definition of “reasonable” is subjective. On 21 December 2008, two groups of young men got into an argument on a train in Sydney’s south west. A 17 year old named Andrew Motuliki threatened a smaller 16 year old, who ran away into another carriage (retreat and flee – the correct decision, under the law). Andrew chased him and drew back his fist to punch when the smaller youth pulled a knife and stabbed him in terrified self-defence. He had been assaulted and robbed a month earlier, and started carrying a knife “for protection, because I get rolled all the time”. In court, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter based on a concept of “excessive self-defence” – the judge gave him six years in prison. Despite the danger from his assailant, the judge decided he shouldn’t have carried a knife for protection against criminal activity. This sends a clear message to all criminals: “The law will punish your victims if they fight back.”
In Australia, it is not only violent career criminals who are emboldened by our gun control laws. Andrew Motuliki was just an average teenager who escalated a simple brawl into a deadly exchange because he knew there was only a tiny, tiny chance that his victim would be armed. This is important to note: Australia’s gun laws give even a teenage wannabe thug the confidence to escalate a conflict because there is minimal risk of harm to themselves. It’s all there in the risk – reward balance. The above two examples are replicated hundreds of times in all capital cities: disarmed sheep being preyed upon by a bold criminal class. Criminals, surprisingly do not obey laws.
Just last week, a woman was attacked by a man with a hammer in Cairns; a young woman was stopped by police with a sawn-off .22 rifle; a Melbourne man is in hospital after being shot in the thigh, while the occupants of two cars exchanged gunfire while driving down a suburban street. News report indicate there have been ten shootings in Victoria in the first six weeks of the year alone. Can you guess how many were committee by licenced shooters with registered firearms? Zero?
Law abiding Australians are prohibited from owning firearms for self-defence, and punished by the courts if they fight back against attackers. A man in Perth is facing charges after fighting off a home invader. An Australian soldier training for SAS selection was arrested while jogging in public near the army base carrying a metal frame which simulates the weight of the service rifle. He was charged with “causing fear” and will likely miss out on his chance to join the SAS due to the publicity. This is the level of anti-gun hysteria promoted by the media and sadly lapped up by a gullible public.
The other deterring factor for criminals is harsh penalties. In Australia (as in most countries), gun crime is strongly linked with drug crime. However when police raid a house and seize illegal guns and drugs, the gun charges are routinely dropped because the drug charges carry more penalties. It also helps skew the statistics by allowing police to show high statistics of drug crime (validating their requests for more funding), and lower statistics for firearms crime (as if our gun laws are working). This deceitful manipulation of statistics conceals the fact that gun crime is out of control and the strict laws are not stopping it. Strangely enough, criminals who already break laws against assault, robbery and drug possession are willing to break laws against gun crime. This is ignored by the media and government, who continue to praise the laws as successful.
“Hold on a minute” comes an attempted rebuttal – “Our strict gun laws stopped the 2014 Lindt Café shooter from getting a machine gun – all he was able to get was a sawn off shotgun”. This comment was made by uninformed members of the public and repeated in some form or another in the media.
Let’s examine this statement one element at a time. Calmly and logically.
An unlicensed individual was able to circumvent every method used to stop gun crime: licencing, registration, waiting periods. The strict laws did not stop any element of the crime.
As to his choice of firearm, we will never know for certain why a sawn off pump action shotgun was chosen but we can make an educated guess. The criminal obtained the cheapest option that was available and would do the job. We know that there are several M72 rocket launchers stolen from the Australian Defence Force which have not been recovered. We know that there are at least 200 Glock pistols imported through Sylvania Post Office which have not been recovered. Recently, a young woman was arrested in Western NSW with a sawn off rifle in her car (strangely enough, she was caught with a quantity of meth as well, confirming the illegal guns – illegal drugs link). Nobody knows what else is available in Australia because there is no way of finding out, but based on these facts alone we can see that the Lindt Café shooter could have obtained either a rocket launcher, sawn off rifle or a Glock pistol but chose the pump action shotgun as it was: 1 – available, 2 – within his price range and 3 – suited to the crime he wished to commit. No laws stopped him from buying a machine gun or a rocket launcher, if he had the desire and the money.
Strict gun laws have not stopped mass killings or gun crime. While it is true that Australia has not had a mass shooting on the scale of Port Arthur since 1996, we have suffered the following: Millewa State Forest shootings, Monash University shooting, Hectorville Siege, Wedderburn, Lockart, gang and drug shootings in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, the Lindt Café and Parramatta Police Station shooting. We have also had mass killings in Childers (backpacker fire), the Quakers Hill nursing home fire and the Cairns mass child stabbings so to suggest that Australia’s strict laws have stopped gun crime or mass killings is ludicrous and a deceitful warping of statistics.
Those in favour of gun laws often point to a reduction in Australian firearms crime after 1996 as vindication that the laws worked. This conveniently ignores several factors: Firstly, gun crime was already falling since before 1996; secondly, suicides with firearms reduced substantially, but were replaced by hanging and pills (the overall suicide rate is increasing – just not with firearms); third, the War On Drugs skews firearms crime statistics – as we noted earlier in this article.
But there are those who believe that the idea of “Public Safety’ overrides the factors above. Let’s examine the effects of specific Australian gun control laws on Public Safety. In Australia, a Permit To Acquire is required before a firearm can be purchased. This form and application fee is sent to the Firearms Registry and then the paper Permit is posted out to the applicant. The PTA is valid for 6 months, and so the applicant can take it in to the firearms dealer and exchange it for their firearm (plus any monies owing on the purchase). This is in the name of “public safety”, to ensure that no criminals are issued with a PTA and cannot purchase a firearm from a firearms dealer.
But if someone requests a PTA, received it in the mail and then within 6 months becomes radicalised, or makes threats or comes to the attention of the authorities in some way, there is no way to recall that PTA. The now-dangerous applicant can walk into any gun shop with cash and buy a firearm and there is no way for the authorities to stop them. Yet the public are misled into thinking they are safer due to “strict gun laws”.
Now, nobody is saying that criminals obtain firearms from gun shops. That’s as silly as saying they buy Meth in Chemist shops or drugstores. But the whole mantra of “public safety through strict gun laws” is shown to be an illusion.
The few examples referenced in this article are but a drop in the ocean of increasing crime all over Australia. The government and courts are sending a clear message to criminals: your victims are disarmed and we will punish them if they fight back. This is the chilling legacy of Australia’s gun control experiment.
Justin Luke is a family man based in suburban Sydney. He is a passionate advocate of the shooting sports & heritage and spends as much time as possible exploring, running, climbing and hunting all over the East Coast of Australia.