Dr Samara McPhedran

Australia and firearms: What the evidence really tells us


Responding to MLC David Shoebridge’s firearms piece, Dr Samara McPhedran argues that anti-gun lobbyists privilege some forms of “evidence” over all others, at the expense of proper scrutiny.


Greens NSW MLC David Shoebridge’s call for evidence-based policy towards firearms management sounds good.

Sadly, his statistical cherry-picking shows that politicians use statistics like a drunk uses a lamp-post.

The facts simply do not support Mr Shoebridge’s belief that more gun laws equate to more safety. Nor do the facts back the Greens NSW long-standing policy platform of imposing ever-increasing bans on legal gun ownership.

In 1996, Australia passed some of the most restrictive gun laws in the Western world. This included bans on semi-automatic longarms (rifles and shotguns) and pump-action shotguns, and a taxpayer-funded gun confiscation program costing an estimated half-billion dollars.

Since then, many different research groups have studied the effects of those laws. None of these has found a significant impact of the legislative changes on the pre-existing downward trend in firearm homicide. The decline in firearm homicides in Australia is not unique, with other Commonwealth countries like Canada and New Zealand experiencing similar or greater declines over time, despite having higher density of gun ownership than Australia and much less restrictive legislative approaches to firearms control.

Whether or not Australia’s laws affected firearm suicides is uncertain. Some studies find an impact, others find little or no evidence of any changes and/or substitution of other suicide methods. Adding to this complexity, suicides across the board declined after 1997. This coincided with national implementation of a wide range of suicide prevention strategies.

There were broader social changes occurring around that time, including the start of a long period of economic growth and low unemployment. It is extremely difficult to disentangle the effects of legislative changes from those of multiple interventions and social changes occurring around the same time. Indeed, based on a careful evidence review, it has been proposed that Australia’s gun laws do not represent a cost-effective way of preventing suicide.

Anti-gun lobbyists often claim that banning private ownership of semi-automatic longarms has prevented mass shootings. However, our close neighbour New Zealand – similar to us in history, culture, and economic trends – has experienced an almost identical time period with no mass shootings despite continued widespread availability of the firearms Australia banned. The absence of mass shootings in New Zealand alongside ongoing use of sporting configuration semi-automatic firearms for target shooting and hunting cannot be reasonably attributed to pre-existing differences between the two countries: data that takes the different population sizes into account shows the occurrence of mass shootings before 1996/1997 was comparable between countries.

Interestingly, some authors claim to find miraculous impacts of Australia’s gun laws, such as Australian Labor Party MP Andrew Leigh, whose work Mr Shoebridge selectively promotes. When you look closely at the actual results of that study, the statistics just do not add up.  As the US National Institute of Justice comments: “[Leigh & Neill 2010] has proven confusing in that its abstract suggests that Australia’s gun buyback reduced firearm homicide rates…but the body of the report finds no effect.” Others note that the result of Leigh and Neill’s suicide estimation modelling “strains credulity.”[1] Unfortunately, it seems anti-gun lobbyists privilege some forms of “evidence” over all others at the expense of proper scrutiny.

Is it true that the more legally-owned guns there are in Australia, the more gun crime we will have? The answer is resoundingly “no”. For example, figures released by the NSW Government show very clearly that although the number of firearm licence holders and legally-owned guns has continued to grow, firearm misuse, as well as firearm theft, has continued to fall.

The ongoing administrative costs of Australia’s firearms management regime are unknown, but have been conservatively estimated at around AU$27 million per year, or about AU$75,000 per day. This is more than the average Australian earns in a year and it is a “low estimate” – the real costs may be much higher[2].

Despite this massive price tag, the overall balance of evidence suggests Australia’s gun laws are simply not the “too good to be true” success story anti-gun lobbyists want them to be.

So, if Mr Shoebridge and his colleagues genuinely want evidence-based policy towards firearms, it looks like they still have a lot to learn.




[1] Hemenway, D. (2011). The Australian Gun Buyback. Harvard Injury Control Research Centre Bulletin No. 4, Page 2.

[2] NOUS Group (2007). National Firearms Management System: Business case project. Canberra.

Dr Samara McPhedran

Dr Samara McPhedran has published extensive peer-reviewed research in the fields of firearms policy and suicide and homicide prevention. She is current Chair of the International Coalition for Women in Shooting and Hunting (WiSH).

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  • tom2

    Apologies for being late to this party. For what they’re worth, here are some facts I found. Comparing U.S. numbers to Australia’s is difficult because most so-called “gun deaths” in the U.S. were suicides. And as most conclude, suicide takes the path of least pain. But the fact is the U.S. suicide rate is only 1.25 times higher than Australia’s, about the same as the comparative overall crime rates (1.19 times higher) and the quality of life (1.13 times higher). But the population density in the U.S. is 12.1 times higher, a statistic that often is quoted by sociologists as a causative factor in crime statistics, suicide rates and quality of life. Japan exemplifies the disconnect between firearms and suicides. Japan has almost no personal firearms ownership, yet its 2014 suicide rate is almost double the US rate. They simply use other methods. Since 1990, Australia’s homicide rate has decreased by nine percent compared to a decline in the U.S. by 39.4 percent. Since 2001, Australia’s armed robberies declined by one-third compared to 18.5 percent in the U.S. I used these periods because they’re the ones often cherry picked by leftists interested only in making their point. For example, since 1990, robberies in the U.S. have declined by 46 percent, a figure never cited by leftist media. And they never mention the fact that firearm sales tripled simultaneous with a significant decline in all the recorded crime categories. The undeniable downside to Australia’s confiscation effort is during the past 10 years, recorded assaults increased 40 percent compared to a U.S. decline of 16 percent. And during the same period, sexual assaults in Australia increased 20 percent compared to a 15 percent decline in the U.S. A direct comparison of murder rates isn’t possible because illegal aliens murder large numbers of citizens annually in the U.S. while the number of illegal aliens are negligible in Australia. Scant data are available on illegal alien crime but one statistic is indisputable. Illegal aliens are responsible for a third of all the murders in U.S. cities. Belated kudos to Dr Samara McPhedran and thanks.

  • kickass

    I have had 2 friends capable of acting upon their intent to commit suicide with both having access to guns. 1 is still alive and the other gassed himself in a friends car. If you place a person who has convinced themselves that continuing to live has become a fate worse than death on a cliff top with a beam and rope, a gun, knife, poison, car and hose. David would tell you if you remove the gun you will have saved a life. He has been, is and will always continue to be a fool.

  • Keith

    Great honest, evidence based work as usual Dr McPhedran!

  • safeshot

    Of course if Shoebridge et al had been in the Ottawa parliament they could have gone out and reasoned with the would be killer.

    • rabblerouser

      what an asinine response. you clearly didn’t even read Shoebridge’s article. Irrationals like you just add more fuel to Shoebridge’s argument if anything.

  • Illuminaughty


  • James L Battersby

    those Aussies who want fire-arms to protect themselves, their families and their properties from thugs, pscyhos, tyrants, foreign invaders/WWIII, zombie apocalypses, economic collapse and/or alien invasion are, quite simply, fed up with waiting for the truth of that bogus incident called “the Port Arthur massacre” ( http://tinyurl.com/mrg-truck ; ) to emerge and/or for reasonably decent and positive changes to be made to our current, draconian if not outright totalitarian ‘gun laws’ (for instance: “self-defence” being made a valid reason to apply for a s/lc)…..

    instead, as the world situation increasingly deterioates, they will, quite simply, start ignoring those crazy gun laws and ‘sourcing’ guns ‘illegally’……most likely from the Dark Web….which has the most potential for an “illegal” local fire-arms market-place….

    inevitably, such a massive campaign of civil dis-obedience will render Howard’s gun laws unworkable and illegitimate…..just like Prohibition in the 1920s in the US ……..

    “better to be tried by twelve than carried by six!”

  • mobtek

    Great article with good references to back up the arguments. You know the anti-gun lobby are desperate when they have to resort to lies and misrepresentations to try and bolster their arguments. There are some great studies there for David Shoebridge to read and get better educated.

  • Fed up with Anti Firearms BS

    Thankyou for finally letting the truth be known. For far too long the Anti Firearms Groups have been able to just say what they like without any real truth or facts. The amount of mistruths and outright lies in their arguments clearly shows just how deceitful and untrustworthy they can be and the lengths they will go to to get their own way.