Stephen Pallaras: Quick on the draw

Stephen Pallaras (Sunday Mail, 21/10/2007) has made it his mission of the week to get rid of guns in South Australia. He has been criticized by many in the state for the lack of evidence that his proposal will have any practical effect on the criminal misuse of guns. He says that if there were no guns, there would be no criminal misuse of them. He is wrong.

It’s a bit late for that simplistic view to be successful. Banning the legal use of guns will not stop their illegal use. The United Kingdom has banned all civilian ownership of handguns yet the criminal use of those same handguns has sky-rocketed there.

Australia banned semi-automatic rifles and shotguns in 1996 but the murder rate has dropped not one iota because of that. What has happened is that while the incidence of homicide with guns has indeed declined, the overall rate has remained constant because other means have been substituted. Research by the Australian Institute of Criminology shows that licensed gun owners are not the cause of the criminal misuse of guns. Mr Pallaras, of all people, should understand that criminals are lawbreakers by definition, and the simple act of banning guns will not prevent their acquisition for illegal purposes.

He says shooters ignore the fact that firearms are stolen from gun owners each year. But he also chooses to ignore press reports indicating that machine guns and munitions have been stolen from government armories and attempts to lay the whole blame on civilian owners. He also ignores the fact that theft from licensed owners is decreasing year by year.

His strategies, being fallacious, will not work so he indulges in name calling. Those who own guns legally, having jumped through hoops to achieve that, are “weekend cowboys and “Dirty Harry” wannabees”.  He claims that the “weekend cowboys” attitude is “I want to shoot and the rest of the world be damned”, and that it is an attitude devoid of honesty and integrity. He accuses gun owners of being unable to suggest an alternative strategy.

But shooters have been advocating alternative approaches for years but people like Stephen Pallaras are too arrogant to acknowledge them. Here’s one of them: prosecute offenders who use a gun in the commission of a crime to the fullest extent allowed by law - don’t just slap their wrist and release them back into the community.

Mr Pallaras claims that none who opposed him were police officers, parents of children who worry about the impact of street crime, doctors, nurses etc; the cacophony of protest came from the “gun clubs” he says. How does he know, is he a mind reader?

Shooters come from a representative cross-section of the community. They represent every occupation and profession from architects to truck drivers to zoologists, and certainly include police officers, doctors and nurses - and parents who worry about their children. They cannot be dismissed as “weekend cowboys” or “Dirty Harry wannabees.”

Mr Pallaras ends with a quote from Humphrey Bogart film, The Big Sleep: “My, my, my. Such a lot of guns around and so few brains.” Here’s one for him from Plato: "Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws."