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Coroner's flawed recommendations

 

In June 2007 the Media carried variations of the headline, “Tighten firearms licences: NSW coroner”. The story related to the tragic murder of his family by a father and his subsequent suicide by shooting. He stabbed and suffocated his wife and suffocated his two small children.

 

A deputy coroner in NSW included in her published findings a recommendation1 that, according to media reports, the procedure for issuing a firearm licence should be made “tighter”.

 

It requires a great leap of faith to see how making it harder to qualify for a firearm licence would have averted this particular tragedy, especially since the mother and children were murdered by stabbing and suffocation, but the Deputy State Coroner Jacqueline Milledge obviously believed it would because she was convinced that owning a firearm made it easier for him to murder his family. The coroner said, "Whilst Michael killed his family by other means, it is not known if having the firearm gave him some sense of comfort knowing that following his awful deed he could easily take his own life with his rifle."

 

Roland Browne of the National Coalition for Gun Control quickly added his contribution to the debate (if one could call it such) with this call:

 

"We welcome the coroner's recommendation for a mandatory psychiatric assessment, we'd like to go further and have people subject to a 10 year ban. People who have attempted self-harm are likely to consider or try and harm themselves again," he said. “Community safety is paramount with firearms and this is the only way to ensure it."2

 

This case is ineffably sad but turning it into an anti-gun harangue tells us something about the machinations of the National Coalition for Gun Control who seem to be more interested in grandstanding than saving lives. No mention was made, in Roland Browne's reported comments, of the three victims stabbed and suffocated. But the sad fact that the father committed suicide with a firearm was used by the NCGC to further their own particular agenda.

 

Depression is a devastating illness and sufferers sometimes do terrible things. Instead of calling for help for the mentally ill Mr Browne and his organisation focus on the instrument of suicide – the final one of these four tragic deaths - rather than the reasons for the tragedy itself, and in so doing completely ignore the awful murders that preceded the final, desperate act.

 

Coronial Findings

 

A Coronial Inquest was held some three years after the tragedy and the coroner’s findings, released in July 2007, were widely reported in the electronic and print media.

 

The coroner’s published findings are:

 

Recommendations3

 

To the Minister for Police and Police Commissioner:

  •       That the Firearms Act (Section 79) be amended to ensure mandatory notification to police by all health professionals (including counsellors) if they believe or suspect that a person is at risk of self harm or harming another by having access to firearms

  •       That where an applicant for a Firearms Licence (in the first instance or for renewal) has attempted self harm at any time, the applicant must provide a comprehensive assessment by a psychiatrist as to his fitness to hold such a licence.  (My preferred position is that anyone with a history of self-harm be prohibited from holding or obtaining a firearms licence, however that may be far too restrictive).

To the Minister for Health and the Therapeutic Goods Administration:

  •       That the use of Citalopram in the treatment of depression be monitored and further studied to determine its effectiveness in the treatment of depressive illness and to guard against any side effects that may exacerbate a predisposition to violent behaviour.

 

In her report the coroner highlighted evidence given by a family friend that the previous suicide attempt “…..was done for attention and he had achieved his aim,” which she then ignored – though some importance is placed on evidence from the same source on Mr. Richardson’s subsequent return to work ‘as if nothing had happened.’ 4

 

The report contains an account of psychologic help that both Mr. Richardson and his wife sought to overcome their problems, marital and otherwise. Of the 13 pages in the report eight were devoted to the mental problems experienced by Michael Richardson and the effect these had on himself and his family. Yet other than to recommend that the drug Citalopram’s use in the treatment of depression be "monitored", no further suggestions were advanced by the coroner regarding the treatment of mental illness.

 

The Coroner's primary recommendations did however urge increased regulation of firearms. In making these recommendations the coroner appears to have ignored the greater body of evidence contained in her own report and to have indulged in a somewhat biased view of firearms ownership.

 

We believe the report is flawed for the following reasons:

 

1.    The coroner has largely ignored the body of evidence relating to mental illness,   and,

2.    The evidence as presented does not support the call for the tighter control of firearms.

 

Footnotes

 

1. Coroners Findings: Findings

2. News Report: http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200706/s1951951.htm

3. Coroners Recommendations:  Recommendations

4. Coronial Findings, page 2: Findings

 

Kadmos