Look Out! She’s Got a Gun!

Oh, it’s okay, she’s a policewoman. And those guys in her gang, they’re police too, so that’s all right then.

Or is it?

Obviously this blog is about life in Australia. I try to cover everything from the good the bad and the ugly. So today I am going to talk about guns in Australia, gun law and police with guns. Ooh…. and murder.

I hadn’t really thought about it much before, until I went to the Ipswich 150th Anniversary Fun Day event the other Sunday. There were slides, bouncy castles, roundabouts and a live show and lots of children just running around having fun. Strolling in the sunshine were three local policemen……

Australian PoliceAs I got closer, I thought “isn’t that a gun?”

Australian PoliceSo I took a closer look….

Australian Police and GunsYes, it sure was. And it seemed strange given the surroundings, but here in Australia the police do routinely carry guns. That didn’t happen back in England and has been the source of many a debate in that country for as long as I can remember. They still carry truncheons or extendable batons and in addition to that, they might have CS spray. The UK police can also call upon Armed Response Vehicles and Firearms Units when needed.

So, is it safer here in Australia?

It would appear that the use of guns by police worldwide is more common than a police force without guns. So in that respect you could say that Australia is “normal”. But is it safer?

I suppose what troubles most people about police and guns is the prospect of excessive use, people getting shot who really should not have been. I think every police force in the world has been accused of that and Australia is no different. In particular, Victoria police shot a 15-year-old boy in a Kmart store whose only weapon was a knife, when many people believe it would have been just as easy to contain him. The police on the other hand, maintain that one of their officers lives were in danger and they had no choice.

Update January 2019

Last night, by accident, I caught the last half an hour of a repeat of an old documentary called “Trigger Point” on ABC. In the episode I saw, the police officers who were involved in the shooting of Tyler Cassidy talked about the incident, and it was clear to see how devastated they were that it had ended in the loss of life of the young 15 year old.

I originally stated above that the incident took place in a Kmart store, this is incorrect, although two knives were stolen from Kmart. The incident actually took place in a skate park nearby in Northcote.

The police do maintain that one of their officers was in danger and that they had no choice but to open fire. Their full account can be read at heraldsun.com.au

In 2011 the Coroner’s findings highlighted the urgent need for reform of police training in the use of force. The Human Rights Law Centre welcomed the decision and you can read what they had to say about it on their website at hrlc.org.au

The documentary I saw seemed to suggest towards the end that Victoria Police have implemented new training techniques to deal with these kind of situations.

There has been some debate in the comments below about my saying “whose only weapon was a knife, when many people believe it would have been just as easy to contain him.’

There are definitely two sides to this story, and if you read both of the articles I have linked to in this update, then I think you will be in a better position to decide for yourself which side you take.

It’s not an easy choice.

End of update, on with the original article…

But then I remember back in England when, in 1983, police (from one of those special armed units) ambushed and shot Stephen Waldorf five times as he sat in traffic in his mini. It was a case of mistaken identity and luckily Waldorf survived.

There will always be mistakes. The hope of course, is that there aren’t too many of them.

So the police have guns, but do the people? After the Port Arthur massacre of 1996 in Tasmania, when Martin Bryant killed 35 people and injured 21, which still remains some kind of record for lone gunmen killings worldwide, Australian gun ownership laws were tightened up significantly.

As a result, all privately owned guns require a permit and it is currently estimated that around 5.2% of the population own licensed guns. Over in America where I believe it is every citizen’s right to own a gun if they so choose, it is estimated that there could be anything between 25% and 50% of the population who own guns.

But in England I believe there are only around 2 million registered guns which would suggest less than 3% of the population are armed. So how does that translate into murder/homicide rates in each of those countries?

Turns out, from my research, that it appears if somebody is going to kill you, they’re going to kill you, whether they’ve got a gun or not. Take a look at these figures…

Murders per 100,000 population by gun.

  • England & Wales 0.12
  • Australia 0.31
  • USA 2.97

So you are almost 3 times more likely to be shot in Australia than you are in England & Wales. But you are nearly 10 times more likely to be shot in the USA than you are in Australia.

Murders per 100,000 population NOT by gun.

  • England & Wales 1.33
  • Australia 1.26
  • USA 1.58

Take guns out from the equation and there’s really not that much in it between all three countries.

Overall murders (by any means) per 100,000 population.

  • England & Wales 1.45
  • Australia 1.57
  • USA 4.55

These, I would suggest, are the figures that count. It would appear you are three times more likely to get murdered in America than you are in Australia or England and Wales where there is not a huge amount of difference between the two countries.

So do police carrying guns make for a safer country? No, not according to these figures. Do restrictions on private gun ownership make for a safer country? Yes, it looks pretty conclusive to me.

One final word. If you find these figures scary, don’t go to Columbia for your holidays. Overall murders there (by any means) per 100,000 population run at 62.7, 51.8 with guns.

But if you want to go somewhere that does have fewer murders than Australia then choose from Chile, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Qatar, Singapore, Spain and Switzerland which all have lower rates.

Update: March 2016

This was my original source for this article:

As you can see though, and I can see now, it would seem that they got their information from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2000. You may need to click on the image to enlarge it…

Aus 2000 statsThat means it was about eight or nine years out of date. So, my apologies for that, although it does still compare the three countries using the same date for the information, so it does have some relevance.

About three years later, the Gun Violence page on Wikipedia updated to the 2010 information from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime which showed:

Murders per 100,000 population by gun.

  • England & Wales 0.07
  • Australia 0.13
  • USA 3.21

Murders per 100,000 population NOT by gun.

  • England & Wales 0.99
  • Australia 1.07
  • USA 1.54

Overall murders (by any means) per 100,000 population.

  • England & Wales 1.06
  • Australia 1.20
  • USA 4.75

Interesting to note that the murder rate has fallen in both England and Wales as well as Australia, but has actually risen over the 10 year period in the USA.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/archive2

My apologies for the slightly misleading information at the time of the original posting.

I realised this problem as I prepared an update to this post which you can read here:

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{ 156 comments… add one }
  • TechGirl September 2, 2019, 9:53 pm |

    A guy with a gun just stopped a potential mass shooting a month ago.

    Former firefighter stops man armed with 100 rounds of ammunition at south Springfield Walmart.

    Here is a list from 2013.

    • BobinOz September 3, 2019, 8:52 pm |

      This is what Charles and I were asking in our conversation a bit earlier in this comment thread. As any civilian, exercising his right to carry arms, prevented or stopped a mass shooting. Seems it does happen and thank you for pointing us in the right direction.

      I have to say though, and I’m sure BuzzFeed have done their research thoroughly, just nine cases in the 15 years they cover in their article doesn’t really suggest to me that allowing people to easily own and carry guns in the US is really helping people defend themselves. A quick skim read also suggest that five of those who intervened were either off duty or former policeman.

      A good argument, I would think, for restricting gun ownership and letting the police take care of these situations which would surely be fewer with less guns in circulation.

  • TechGirl September 2, 2019, 9:19 pm |

    The USA is not unsafe because of guns. You can live in a rural area where everyone has a gun and be quite safe. You can live in some urban neighborhoods and it is a different story.
    The US has a much bigger poverty and gang problem. Our welfare laws reward single parent homes.
    Take fathers away and it creates an issue for elephants too.
    The US murder rate is a societal issue.

    • BobinOz September 3, 2019, 4:14 pm |

      The US isn’t safe because of guns either. I get your point, and that works with countries as well. Gun ownership is rife in other countries like Switzerland, Canada and New Caledonia, and people seem quite safe there.

      For some reason though, mass shootings in the US are a regular thing. Probably not helped by the gang problems, or the poverty, or even the substance abuse and mental problems that we have talked about in comments elsewhere on this site.

      • TechGirl September 3, 2019, 10:24 pm |

        The gang problems and mass shootings are different issues.
        I think the person who posted about the pharmaceuticals the kids doing these mass shootings are on, might be onto something.
        But I don’t know.
        Something is up though.

        • BobinOz September 4, 2019, 9:01 pm |

          Interesting article just out from the L A Times, see…


          Or Google “Opinion: We analyzed 53 years of mass shooting data. Attacks aren’t just increasing, they’re getting deadlier” if you are asked to log in or subscribe. It shows just how bad the mass shooting problem has become of late.

          • TechGirl September 4, 2019, 9:14 pm |

            Which makes me think it can’t just be 100% guns, because that hasn’t change that much lately.

            From the article:
            “Mass shootings still represent just one-half of 1% of the more than 14,000 firearm-caused homicides per year in the United States, but while the number of homicides overall has declined in recent years, the number of mass shootings continues to surge.”

            “If the attacks seem to follow a macabre pattern, that is not surprising. Mass shooting memes spread by diffusion. First, innovators like the Columbine High School killers provide a blueprint for early adopters to follow. Each new shooting normalizes the process and encourages new participants to join in.

            The validation process is self-sustaining. Like genre conventions in movies and pop culture, mass shooters today are conforming to expectations of what mass shooters do. They post their pet ideologies on the internet, use similar-style assault rifles, and try to top the death count of those who came before.

            We too are conforming. Politicians and civic leaders offer thoughts and prayers. The media feature the victims’ families, cover the funerals and probe the killers’ backgrounds. And we try to “harden” targets, putting children through rituals of lockdown drills and equipping them with bulletproof backpacks for school.

            Studies estimate that in the aftermath of their attacks, mass killers receive approximately $75 million in free media coverage, a level professional athletes and Hollywood actors would envy. For men who feel angry, alienated and anonymous, the incentives to perform are appealing. And bigger body counts mean bigger headlines. One recently thwarted shooter posted that, “A good 100 kills would be nice,” and another wanted to “break a world record.”

            And, as we wrote in another L.A. Times op-ed last month, contagion is only one part of the complex mass shooter story. At a time when childhood trauma is rising, more young men are angry or in suicidal crisis, and access to highly lethal firearms has never been easier. Lots of research has gone into copycat suicides and how to prevent them. We should treat mass shootings the same. In this case, suicide and homicide are different sides of the same coin.

            Mass shootings are growing in number and impact but they are not an inevitable fact of American life. They demand action. We must challenge any rhetoric that endorses hate and violence, change the blueprint we are handing our children, and step-by-step, rewrite the U.S. violence script.

            James Densley is a sociologist and professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University. Jillian Peterson is a psychologist and professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University. They run the Violence Project.”

            • TechGirl September 4, 2019, 9:18 pm |

              More proof of the overall rot in our society in the US.
              Goes along with the drug epidemic.
              Pay attention and learn so you can avoid our fate.

              • BobinOz September 5, 2019, 6:26 pm |

                Every one of those paragraphs you have reprinted from the article is scary as hell. Goes a long way to explaining why the problem is just getting worse and worse.

                Only the paragraph that contains “change the blueprint we are handing our children” offers any hope or direction. I don’t think there is any doubt now that major changes are in need to stop this madness.

                Hard to see it happening though, unfortunately. It is a part of America, therein.

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