STUDY SHOWS BUYBACK HAD NO EFFECT ON THE MURDER RATE
Dr Jeanine Baker and Ms Samara McPhedran have published a paper in the prestigious British Journal of Criminology examining the difference between trends in murder and suicide before and after the notorious gun buybacks of 1996-97 and 2002.
They found that there is no clear evidence of benefit as would be shown if the murder rate, already declining, had changed in any measurable way.
Following the release of the study it was attacked by one Professor Simon Chapman, one of the activists who pushed for changes to the gun laws at the time, one of perhaps a dozen people with most to lose if the buyback is acknowledged for what it really was.
Mysteriously, Australian Associated Press (AAP) distributed an article (run in the online editions of most major Australian papers), bagging the paper in immoderate terms apparently dictated from the desk of Professor Chapman. The article misappropriated the activist professor's university credentials as though he were a trustworthy reviewer, and disparaged the credibility of Dr Baker and Ms McPhedran by using the term 'gun lobby' and failing to use their correct titles and positions as the writer did for Professor Chapman.
Later, the head of BOCSAR (NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research), Don Weatherburn, participated in a discussion with Professor Chapman and Ms McPhedran on ABC Radio's 'The Law Report', with interesting results. Ultimately, it appears that though there is no measurable benefit, the 1996 gun laws were A Good Thing.
Other criticisms of the paper were made by economist Andrew Leigh, who pointed out that if the trend broke through the lower 95% confidence limit it would have to be negative numbers of murders, obviously an impossibility as a measure of success.
The most important point to make is if it takes someone of the quality of Andrew Leigh to produce a valid criticism of the work, we have to wonder what a good benefit-cost evaluation would be like.
We are left wondering, because the Official Umpire appointed by John Howard, the AIC, has not produced a credible measure of benefits to date. We await with even more interest a comparison of the benefit-cost of the Buybacks with spending on domestic violence education, suicide prevention and better policing.
"It may come as a surprise to Simon Chapman (Letters, October 31) but, like him, I too strongly supported the introduction of tougher gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre.
The fact is, however, that the introduction of those laws did not result in any acceleration of the downward trend in gun homicide. They may have reduced the risk of mass shootings but we cannot be sure because no one has done the rigorous statistical work required to verify this possibility.
It is always unpleasant to acknowledge facts that are inconsistent with your own point of view. But I thought that was what distinguished science from popular prejudice."
Dr Don Weatherburn NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Sydney
"HALF a billion dollars spent buying back hundreds of thousands of guns after the Port Arthur massacre had no effect on the homicide rate, says a study published in an influential British journal.
The report by two Australian academics, published in the British Journal of Criminology, said statistics gathered in the decade since Port Arthur showed gun deaths had been declining well before 1996 and the buyback of more than 600,000 mainly semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns had made no difference in the rate of decline."