Gun Control' is a speech by David Leyonhjelm who was invited
to deliver it at the "Prohibition Speakeasy" seminar in
Sydney on December 6, 2008.
Also available as a Word document from the
I wonder if anyone
can tell me who said this:
“We will find any
means we can to further restrict them because I hate guns. I
don’t think people should have guns, unless they are police,
or in the military or security industry. Ordinary citizens
should not have weapons. We do not want the American disease
imported into Australia.”
It was John Howard,
the former Prime Minister. And my guess is he probably spoke
for a majority of Australians. Quite likely a fair few
people here too.
There were three
assumptions implicit in his comment.
First, he assumed
strict gun laws lead to gun control, which in turn leads to
reduced levels of violence.
Second, he assumed
the so-called “American gun culture” is bad and something to
Third, he assumed it
was perfectly OK for the government to have all the guns and
for ordinary people to have none.
I’ll focus on the
first two – that strict gun laws lead to a safer society,
and the American gun culture. The third is a different topic
and I can’t deal with it adequately in 10 minutes.
If I said to you that
neither of these two assumptions is true, a lot of you would
instinctively disagree. Such is the nature of the gun
But it is a fact that
gun laws do not control guns. And even if they did it
wouldn’t reduce crime.
And the so-called
American gun culture is derived from movies and TV, with a
bit of media imagination thrown in. The reality is
I recognise some
people are reluctant to reconsider their opinion of guns.
Even liberal minded people on things like drugs, censorship
and prostitution tend to have a blind spot on guns.
Some people actually
fear guns, like some fear heights or spiders. The term for
fear of guns is hoplophobia. People who fear guns are not
open to rational persuasion, just as some people can never
relax when there’s a spider on the wall no matter how much
scientific data is offered explaining how spiders can’t
I believe John Howard
is a hoplophobia (amongst other things).
In 1996 following the
Port Arthur massacre, he forced the States to sign up to an
agreement to make major changes to their gun laws. More
changes followed in 2002 after the murder of two people at
Unless you were a
sporting shooter or hunter, or a farmer, you probably
wouldn’t be familiar with the detail; you’ll have simply
heard about “tough gun laws”. You quite likely assumed tough
gun laws sounded good and never thought further about it.
Prohibition can be a
bit like that. Unless you are directly affected, you tend
not to notice when others lose a bit of their liberty.
So let me tell you a
little bit about the Howard gun laws.
They banned civilians
from owning self-loading (ie semi-automatic) rifles and
shotguns, plus pump action shotguns.
magazine capacity on everything else, introduced individual
registration of rifles and shotguns, and imposed a range of
other restrictions on firearm acquisition.
In 2002/03 pistols
with short barrels were prohibited, plus calibres greater
than .38 or magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
Additional licensing obligations were imposed too.
A special tax was
introduced via the Medicare levy to fund a confiscation with
compensation scheme, euphemistically called a “buy-back”
(you can’t buy back something that was never yours to start
with, but no matter.) The cost was at least $700 million
plus State costs, with more than 700,000 firearms
For those with an
interest in firearms, like me, the new laws were profoundly
First, you could be
liable for 15 years in prison simply by doing nothing.
That’s what an
Australian Rip van Winkle would face if he fell asleep in
1996 with a totally legal semi-automatic rifle, and awoke in
1998 owning an unregistered prohibited weapon.
The shooting sports
had to abandon or restructure popular disciplines. Rifle
matches were forced to make do with rifles introduced more
than 50 years ago, because everything since then is
In some disciplines
pistol shooters became internationally uncompetitive because
of the restrictions on calibres or magazine capacity. As far
as I know, none of the restrictions would have made any
difference to the Monash murderer.
Clay target shooters
who can prove a double barrel shotgun is too big or heavy
are permitted to own a self-loading shotgun, but they can’t
have a spare in case the first one breaks. It’s like forcing
a tennis player to make do with a single tennis racket.
Farmers can own a
single semi-automatic rifle for destroying vermin such as
rabbits, foxes and pigs, or injured livestock, but can’t own
a spare one. And their employees, family members or
contractors can’t have even one such rifle.
A mass of petty legal
traps were created relating to things such as having your
licence with you, storage and transport of firearms and
ammunition, and licence conditions including minimum
attendance at club meetings.
collectors must belong to an approved collectors club and
attend at least two meetings a year.
Any police officer
can look up the police computer and see who legally owns
When the police come
to my house, they are always in pairs and one stands back
with a hand near their pistol, just in case I burst out the
door and spray them with bullets. Of course they don’t do
that when they visit one of my friends. He also has a gun
but he hasn’t bothered with a licence, so they assume he
can’t spray them with bullets.
The safe in which I
store my guns in my home is subject to inspection at
virtually any time. And if I am found with so much as a
single 22 bullet not locked up, I’m likely to lose my
In fact, it is very
easy to break the law if you are a firearm owner. In some
cases regulations were written to make compliance difficult
in the hope it would discourage licence applications.
without conviction, usually results in suspension of your
firearms licence and seizure of your guns.
orders, often taken out frivolously by angry wives or
husbands in divorce or custody disputes, always result in
the loss of licence and guns.
The sheer bastardry
of the gun laws is one reason why gun owners never “get
over” or even “get used to” the gun laws.
But that only affects
you if you are a gun owner.
More relevant to
everyone is the fact that all remaining rights to own a gun
for self-defence were eliminated. For all practical
purposes, and there are no exceptions in NSW, it is now
impossible to own any kind of gun for protection anywhere,
including in the home.
Most people never
felt the need to arm themselves for self-defence. But you
used to be able to make that choice yourself. It was once OK
for people faced with a realistic threat of violence to get
a permit to carry a pistol. The police would often recommend
Wives pursued by
violent ex-husbands, celebrities hounded by crazed fans, and
of course jewellers and owners of gun shops, were among
them. You didn’t hear about it much, but I knew several
people who had permits.
politicians are protected by armed guards at taxpayers
expense and the well-heeled hire armed security guards.
Everyone else takes his or her chances.
In fact, you can’t
carry a weapon of any kind. Even non-lethal alternatives
like pepper sprays, mace and Tasers are banned. You are not
allowed to carry a pocket-knife. Bullet-proof body armour is
In theory, the right
of self-defence hasn’t been lost. Self-defence is still
available as a defence and juries consistently refuse to
convict those charged with serious offences whenever
self-defence is established.
But it is no longer a
practical option for a lot of people. Realistically, only
the young, the strong and the agile have options. I often
hear young fit men scoff at the idea that they need a weapon
for self-defence. But they seem to forget about their
grandmother, mother or sister.
If your ex-husband
has bashed you half a dozen times, breached numerous
restraining orders, made threats to come and finish you off
and knows where you live, you still cannot legally arm
yourself. If you do, you’ll be the one that gets arrested.
Your vulnerability is
no less in your own home except for the fact that you are
still allowed to use whatever is at hand, and kitchen knives
and screwdrivers are so far still legal.
And don’t believe
that old story about criminals being more likely to use your
own weapon against you. It’s another myth. Especially if the
weapon is a gun and you have practised using it.
Even if you own a gun
for sport, as I do, anyone coming to do me in would have to
give me 10 minutes notice for it to be any use. That’s how
long it would take to unlock my compulsory safe, unlock my
compulsory ammunition box, load one of the guns and get it
ready to use.
If you had the right
to vote but there were no ballot boxes, the right would be
academic. The same if you have a right to freedom of
religion but the churches were all turned into museums. A
right that you can’t exercise is not really a right at all.
And the most
practical method of self-defence, if you are prepared to
learn how to use it, is a gun. Most people will never need
one. But there’s no doubt that if you really need to defend
yourself, a shotgun is the best option at home. And if you
need to carry something around, a pistol is best.
Guns can only cause
harm if someone pulls the trigger, just as petrol only
becomes a Molotov cocktail or cameras take paedophile
pictures if someone chooses to use them in that way. Simply
owning a gun is victimless.
Some claim potential
harm is the key factor, but the onus is on the proponents of
control to prove the benefit exceeds the coercive impact.
The potential harm of
internet access may include child pornography, but those who
would restrict internet access are expected to make the
Even if censorship of
the internet were to save a child from paedophilia, most of
us would say it is not sufficient justification. And yet
time and again I hear people say, if banning guns saves a
life, that is sufficient.
cannot make something disappear or demand to vanish in any
case. The assumption that strict gun laws lead to gun
control is no more valid than the assumption that strict
drugs laws lead to the control of drugs.
In spite of the fond
hopes of those who, like John Howard, wanted the tough gun
laws to make guns and violent crime disappear, they failed
to have any such effect.
Since 1999 there have
been about 8 or 10 academic studies of the impact of the
Howard gun laws. All used Australian Bureau of Statistics
cause of death figures. Some were published in peer-reviewed
Probably the most
authoritative was a paper by two female researchers, Baker
and McPhedran. It was peer reviewed and published in a
It showed no effect
of the gun laws. Based on the paper, the head of the NSW
Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Dr Don Weatherburn,
"I too strongly supported the
introduction of tougher gun laws after the Port Arthur
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
A more recent
publication (Lee and Suardi) is probably the most
statistically exhaustive. It applied a whole battery of
statistical tests to homicide and suicide data for the
entire period 1915 to 2004. What they were looking for was a
break point in the long term trend that could be attributed
to the new laws. They couldn’t find one. What they concluded
"... there is little evidence to suggest
that [the National Firearms Agreement] had any significant
effects on firearm homicides and suicides. In addition,
there also does not appear to be any substitution effects –
that reduced access to firearms may have led those bent on
committing homicide or suicide to use alternative methods."
Of course, some
anti-gun people have disagreed. One of them is Simon
Chapman, well known for his anti smoking lobbying. He
pointed to more than a decade free of fatal mass shootings
as evidence of the impact.
But mass shootings
are rare and countries that did not introduce similar gun
laws, such as New Zealand, also had no mass shootings. The
Childers backpacker murders also showed that mass murder
does not necessarily require firearms.
In fact, the worst
mass murder prior to Port Arthur was a deliberately lit fire
at the Whisky a Go Go disco in Brisbane.
It should not really
surprise anyone that the gun laws had no impact. It has been
no different anywhere else in the world. There is no country
in the world where strict gun control laws have led to a
decline in violent crime. Australia was never likely to be
Time prevents me from
providing detail, but here are a few examples.
Malaysia has one of
the strictest gun control laws in the world including the
death penalty for illegal possession of a firearm. That has
not stopped criminals from obtaining or using firearms in
crime, or of engaging in shoot-outs with police.
pistols in 1997 following the Dunblane tragedy. In the
following two years the use of pistols in crime rose by 40
percent. In the four years from 1997 to 2001 the rate of
violent crime more than doubled. The chances of being mugged
in London are now six times greater than in New York.
In Jamaica, in 1974
legislation was introduced banning the private ownership of
firearms and ammunition. The Prime Minister Michael Manley
told the country, “There is no place in this society for
the gun, now or ever.”
The sentence for
almost any firearms crime was life imprisonment. There was
no bail for those charged.
The murder rate in
1973 was 11 per 100,000. It soon rose to 30 and peaked at 40
per 100,000 in 1980.
In May 2007 the World
Bank issued a report which said, “Murder rates in the
Caribbean (it was referring to Jamaica) – at 30 per 100,000
population annually – are higher than for any other region
of the world and assault rates, at least based on assaults
reported to police, are also significantly above the world
The Republic of
Ireland banned virtually all firearms in 1973, requiring
their surrender within just three days, based on concerns
about the IRA. The following year the number of murders
doubled and stayed at that level for the next 20 years.
Other violent crimes increased as well.
The ban was dropped
in 2005 but guess what, the Irish Government is once again
talking about banning pistols.
In the US, Washington
DC has one of the worst murder rates in the country. But the
murder rate was declining up to 1976 when a blanket ban on
handguns and ready to use long arms was introduced.
Between 1976 and 1991
the murder rate rose 200% while the overall US rate rose
only 9%. This ban was recently found unconstitutional by the
US Supreme Court.
In October 2003 the
US Centre for Disease Control released a major study on gun
control laws in the US. The study reviewed 51 published
studies on eight different types of gun laws dating back to
the 1970s. It covered firearms bans, ammunition bans,
waiting periods, background checks, gun registration, gun
owner licensing, right to carry laws, child
access-prevention laws, “zero tolerance” of weapons in
schools and various combinations of laws.
The main outcome was
the finding of “insufficient evidence to determine the
effectiveness” of those laws on violent crimes, suicides
and accidental injuries.
The CDC is notorious
in the US for undertaking biased research on gun control
under the guise of health research. When it finds the
empirical evidence simply does not support the belief that
gun laws make any difference, you have to believe it really
The idea that America
is gun happy and that this is a big problem we don’t need is
difficult to understand in objective terms.
With the exception of
murder, rates of violent crime in the US are considerably
lower than in Australia. OECD statistics for 2000 show the
US had less than half the rate of general assaults, sexual
assaults, burglaries, robberies and car thefts as Australia.
Britain also has a
higher crime rate than the US for all major crimes except
murder and rape. Even then, the method of calculation may
account for the difference. Also, 53 percent of English
burglaries occur while occupants are at home, compared with
just 13 percent in the US where burglars admit to fearing
armed homeowners more than the police.
It’s not PC to say
it, but if you were to remove black on black crime in
several big cities, a large part of which is drug related,
America has an extraordinarily low crime rate.
The assumption that
guns are freely available throughout America is also
incorrect. Gun laws vary enormously within the country, from
virtual prohibition to virtual laissez faire. There are also
federal laws that severely restrict ownership of certain
firearms such as machineguns.
It is a simple fact
that the States and cities with the strictest gun laws are
mong those with the highest violent crime rates. Washington.
Chicago. New York, for example.
The State of New
Hampshire, on the other hand, is one of 40 with a permit
system for concealed carry of pistols for self-defence. Its
Bill of Rights says, “All persons have the right to keep
and bear arms in defences of themselves, their families,
their property and the state”. The law prohibits taking
the fingerprints of applicants for concealed carry permits.
New Hampshire has
some of the lowest crime rates in the US and is nationally
regarded as one of the safest places in which to live.
Since the early 1990s
gun laws have been considerably relaxed in the US,
particularly regarding self-defence, yet there has been no
resulting increase in crime. The US national murder rate in
1991 was 9.8 per 100,000 but fell to 5.6 in 2006.
While America was
liberalising its gun laws, countries like Australia, Canada
and the UK were going the other way.
In America, violent
crime rates fell substantially, with the biggest reductions
in States that allowed people to carry concealed pistols for
In Australia, Canada
and the UK, violent crime rates either remained the same or
The increase in US
states that allow concealed carry had one other effect.
Multiple victim public killings of the kind seen at Port
Arthur declined. A study of all such shootings in the US
from 1977 to 1999 found that deaths and injuries were 80
percent lower in states that passed laws allowing people to
carry concealed pistols. To the extent that attacks
continued, all but the smallest attacks took place where
concealed handguns were banned such as schools.
Virginia Tech is one
such gun-free zone.
Israel has had
similar success in stopping mass public shootings. When it
was realised that the police and military simply couldn’t be
there to protect people all the time when terrorists attack,
a change of policy led to Israelis encouraged to carry
concealed handguns. Since then terrorist gun attacks have
Today about 15
percent of Jewish adults in Israel have permits to carry
concealed handguns. Thus in large public gatherings many
citizens – unknown beforehand to the terrorists – are able
to shoot back at them. During waves of terror attacks,
Israel’s national police chief will call on concealed
handgun permit holders to make sure they carry firearms at
About five million
Americans across 40 states have concealed carry permits,
just over two percent of the adult population. Numbers would
have to increase about seven times to bring it up to the
same level as in Israel.
Despite the lack of
logic in disarming potential crime victims, those who
implicitly believe in gun control, like John Howard, tend to
maintain that belief irrespective of the evidence.
If there were another
mass shooting in Australia tomorrow, we would inevitably
hear a crescendo of calls for even stricter gun laws.
But prohibiting guns
has the same effect as prohibiting anything.
The black market in
guns is no less than it was before 1996.
Those who want a gun
without putting up with big brother now have no choice but
to deal with criminals.
owners like me can easily become criminals by minor
infractions. A friend of mine is facing charges simply for
having a pistol magazine that holds more than 10 bullets. He
forgot to sell it to the government when they made it
There is a vast and
expensive bureaucracy to deal with people like me. They
process my licence application. They process the
registration applications of each of my guns when I buy
them, and again when I sell them. They check to see I’ve
have attended enough meetings of my clubs.
The police also waste
an enormous amount of time on minor infractions by gun
owners. It’s the equivalent of not having the numberplate
light working on your car, but as soon as you mention it’s
about guns everyone thinks it’s really important.
Gun prohibition has
created an aura around guns that they don’t deserve. It was
once common for people to travel to the rifle range at
Malabar on the tram carrying their 303 rifle. If someone
tried that now they’d call a SWAT team and probably shoot
them. An innocent man carrying a table leg was shot and
killed by the police in the UK a few years ago. They thought
he was carrying a gun.
I know many of you
are not going to agree with me. Yet I believe that
prohibiting drugs is pointless, as is prohibiting
prostitution, certain types of advertising (longer lasting
sex), smoking, voluntary euthanasia, and so on, and you
quite likely agree with me about that.
So I wonder why you
think I’m wrong and you’re right. I simply remind you of
Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote: “Those who would deny
freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.”
And since I started
with a quote, I will finish on the same note.
Who said this:
"This year will go
down in history. For the first time, a civilized nation has
full gun registration. Our streets will be safer, our police
more efficient, and the world will follow our lead."
(Adolf Hitler: Chancellor's Speech, 1935)
"The most foolish
mistake we could make would be to allow the subject peoples
to possess arms. So let's not have any talk about native
militias." (Adolf Hitler:
Hitler's Secret Conversations, 1941-44, Farrar, Strauss and
power comes from the barrel of a gun. The communist party
must command all the guns, that way, no guns can ever be
used to command the party."
(Mao Tse Tung Problems of War and Strategy, Nov 6 1938,
published in "Selected Works of Mao Zedong," 1965)
But some support for
gun ownership comes from other quarters:
"Among the many
misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look
upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the
blackest." Mahatma Gandhi
"Gandhi, an Autobiography," M.K. Gandhi, 446)
"A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and
emotional maturity." Sigmund Freud ("General
Introduction to Psychoanalysis," S. Freud)
“Those who would
give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary
safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
(Benjamin Franklin: Nov 11 1755, from the Pennsylvania
Assembly's reply to the Governor of Pennsylvania.)
"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms...disarm only
those who are neither inclined or determined to commit
crimes. Such laws only make things worse for the assaulted
and better for the assassins; they serve to encourage than
to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked
with greater confidence than an armed man." (Thomas
Jefferson: 1764 Letter and speech from T. Jefferson quoting
with approval an essay by Cesare Beccari)
George Washington: "A free people ought to be armed."
(Jan 14 1790, Boston Independent Chronicle.)
James Madison: "Americans have the right and advantage of
being armed, unlike the people of other countries, whose
people are afraid to trust them with arms." (Federalist
Copyright 2008, David Leyonhjelm.
David Leyonhjelm is Treasurer
and currently also Secretary of the LDP. That’s the
Liberty and Democracy Party federally and the
Liberal Democratic Party in the ACT. Hopefully it
will be Liberal Democratic Party everywhere soon. (ldp.org.au)
In his life he has been a
member of the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and for
five years was Chairman of the Shooters Party.
He runs an agribusiness
consulting and executive recruitment company. He is
a former veterinarian and also has degrees in
business and law.