Guns in New York in a file image. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)
April 12, 2023Updated: April 13, 2023
A disarmed population is defenceless in the face of impending tyranny.
The American Founders mistrusted government armies and believed, on the basis of English history and their own colonial experience, that governments are prone to use their weapons to oppress the people. They believed that whenever governments plan to destroy our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property, they always attempt first to disarm their prospective victims.
In countries like Australia, however, gun ownership is not considered a right but a concession of the state. Guns are not permitted for self-defence and are allowed only under limited circumstances, such as for recreational shooting or hunting animals on eligible private properties.
The Labor government of Western Australia (WA) is now promising an extreme form of gun control legislation. It is anticipated that the new laws will be introduced into the local Parliament by November.
Under the proposed changes, 56 types of firearms and 19 calibres of ammunition will become entirely illegal. These bans will be introduced upon recommendation of the WA Police, and the government will fund a buyback of the specified firearms, apparently at market value.
While these massive confiscations may cost the community millions of dollars, there is no evidence that this will necessarily reduce the crimes involving firearms. In some jurisdictions, the opposite effect has, in fact, been observed.
When we look at countries for which data is currently available, the countries that tend to have higher gun ownership rates also tend to have the lowest homicide rates.
Israel, for example, has the world’s highest gun possession and one of the lowest crime rates in the world. In Europe, Switzerland has the highest gun possession but the lowest homicide rates.
Another main problem with banning guns is that criminals will end up getting a hold of these weapons anyway.
In the United Kingdom, for example, firearms were banned in January 1997, but over the following eight years, that country’s homicide rate increased by 45 percent.
In Ireland, another country which has banned firearms in 1972, what had been a stable homicide rate soon experienced a three-fold increase in homicides immediately after that ban.
No Links Found
According to Paul Fitzgerald, president of the Sporting Shooters Association in Western Australia (SSA-WA), no incontestable evidence has been found that links crime with the number of licensed firearm owners in Western Australia.
Indeed, WA Police communicates that over the last 13 years, the number of citizens who hold a gun license has actually fallen in the state. It is presently around 89,000 individuals, or only 4.3 percent of the adult population.
The number of licensed firearms in Western Australia is nearly 350,000, although the police data does not explain what percentage of these weapons are actually paintball guns, which also require a firearms license in the state.
Of course, anything can be used as a weapon by a criminal. Curiously, firearms are the least likely instrument to be used in any form of criminal activity.
As noted by ex-police officer Bob Schwartz from Victoria, firearms make up no more than three percent of all violence in Australia.
“The most common thing that a person in Australia will be attacked with is a blunt instrument or a clenched fist,” he said.
While WA Police insist on not publishing gun crime statistics, the state’s Police Minister Paul Papalia at least acknowledges that very few crimes are actually committed by those licensed to have a firearm.
Nonetheless, WA Police notoriously diverts its scarce financial and strategic resources away from combating crime and towards the bureaucratic micromanagement and control of competitive antique collectors, farmers, sport shooters, and other licensed firearm owners—arguably the group of law-abiding citizens least likely to commit any type of crime.
Danger to the Community
Despite the state’s very low firearm crime rate, the WA premier is attempting to scare people by depicting gun ownership as something dangerous for the community.
Premier Mark McGowan says that his government “is committed to ensure our community and our police officers have the best possible protection from gun violence.”
Unfortunately, such a concern for community safety did not prevent the government from releasing a map that reveals the exact location of thousands of handguns and long-arm firearms in Western Australia.
This map released by the WA government was pulled from an internal police database on March 22 last year and then released to the general public only a few days after the premier’s announcement of the overhauling of gun laws in the alleged interest of community safety.
Of course, it is hard to see how making thousands of law-abiding gun owners at risk of having their homes broken into and having their guns stolen by criminals can improve community safety in the state.
As observed by a veteran WA police officer,
“It’s dangerous [to reveal the location of these firearms]. I’m actually worried now … They were trying to cause fear and panic by showing people, ‘Here’s a map, you’re surrounded by guns!’ But what you’ve done is actually show the criminals where to go to get the guns.”
The WA government has promised to consult stakeholders during the process of developing its extreme firearm controls. While many would agree that reform is necessary, such a consultative process has already taken place a few years ago.
In preparing its final report on the “Review of the Firearms Act 197 (WA),” the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia undertook extensive consultations. This reference garnered the greatest amount of public interest in the history of the Commission.
Ultimately, the Commission received 1,244 written submissions, including ones from various agencies and organisations and from WA Police, the agency responsible for the firearms legislation in the state.
It was very clear that the individuals and organisations preparing those submissions had gone to considerable lengths to respond to the Commission’s questions and proposals.
Through the consultation period, an understanding was formed by the Commission that “most crimes involving firearms are carried out by people who are not licensed to carry the firearms.”
Penalising Law Abiding Citizens
The Commission’s Final Report (pdf) was released to the community in October 2016, containing 143 recommendations.
There the Commission recommends a new legislative framework that strikes a proper balance between the need for regulation of firearms while reducing red tape for those law-abiding users of firearms.
The report mentions that no evidence has been provided to suggest that the current system has been a threat to public safety.
According to the Commission’s then chairman, David Cox, members of the Commission had reached the conclusion that “the vast majority of firearm users in Western Australia are law-abiding” and that it had “no intention of recommending a legislative change that could make it more difficult for firearms uses to abide by the law.”
As can be seen, there is nothing in the final report which recommends the confiscation of weapons and ammunition.
However, as reported, WA Police Minister Papalia is not ruling out further gun confiscations and restrictions.
Of course, the WA government should not ignore the comprehensive report of the Law Reform Commission. The Commission is an independent statutory body that undertook an extensive public consultation on the review of firearms legislation.
In undertaking its review of the relevant legislation, the Commission received an unprecedented response to its call for submissions, which resulted in the largest response the Commission has ever received.
These recommendations were made public only seven years ago, and nothing has changed ever since to justify another “consultation.”
The WA government is now promising a complete overhaul of the legislation. Regardless of what this government eventually decides to draft up, these new laws will end up passing through parliament simply because the government maintains control of both lower and upper houses, allowing this government to introduce and pass virtually any law unimpeded.
Of course, this should never be done in disregard of each of the 143 recommendations made by the Commission. Politicians are not as neutral and independent as the members of the Law Reform Commission.
Prof. Augusto Zimmermann is a former member of the Law Reform Commission in Western Australia. This an abridged version of a paper presented by him as a keynote speaker at the WA Firearms Symposium, in Perth/WA, on March 22, 2023.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.