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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{ 133 comments… add one }
  • John August 24, 2019, 6:06 am | Link

    Switzerland has very relaxed gun laws and a very high gun ownership rate and Switzerland is a very safe and very peaceful country with a very low crime rate and a very low murder rate.

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