Why is it that the NRA and Australian civil gun rights groups claim the 1996 gun ban in that country increased crime, but Australian officials have denied the charge and even suggested that the gun ban has reduced some crimes? Simply put, some Australian officials have lied, while others have selected data supportive of their policies while ignoring significant contrary data.
I have used the following quote several times: "Within 12 months of disarming Australian citizens, homicides were up 3.2%, assaults were up 8.6%, armed-robberies were up 44%, unarmed robberies were up 21%, unlawful entries are were 3.9%, and motor vehicle thefts were up 6.1%." Admittedly, for a long while I had trouble finding the origins of these statistics, though I did contact Australia to double-check them. Now I have a link to a page of crime statistics put out by the Australian government which generally confirms these numbers. That page is located at http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/c311215.NSF/Australia+Now+-+A+Statistical+Profile/2C2A842ACC44F31DCA2567220072E990/.
According to John E Dougherty, the statistics were originally publicized widely by an Australian shooting club. When official statistics put out by the Australian government confirm large increases in most categories of crime, there is solid ground for criticizing the 1996 ban. Dougherty published two recent articles at World Net Daily concerning the statistics and the political fight about them, the second of which discusses the previously cited Australian statistics. Those articles are available at http://www.worldnetdaily.com/bluesky_dougherty/20000324_xnjdo_australia_.shtml and http://www.worldnetdaily.com/bluesky_dougherty/20000326_xnjdo_kangaroo_c.shtml.
Part of the contradictory claims surrounding the crime statistics result from the year cited: the numbers I first saw were from 1997, while Australian officials have used numbers only from 1998. The reason the 1998 statistics are preferred by supporters of the gun ban is obvious: murder rates increased from 1996 to 1997 but decreased from 1997 to 1998. However, homicide is the single significant category in which crime declined from 1996 to 1998. For all other significant categories, including assault and armed robbery, crime in Australia increased, in many cases dramatically.
The most gun ban supporters can claim about the murder rate is that it might not have increased because of the ban. They cannot support the contention that the gun ban has lowered the murder rate. Between 1996 and 1997, the first year after the gun ban, the murder rate increased from 312 to 321. The murder rate then fell to 284 in 1998. Obviously, other factors besides the gun ban, such as law enforcement, can affect the murder rate. If the gun ban itself were a significant factor, we would expect to see the large drop right after the ban, rather than a delayed drop preceded by an increase. Of course, when we're talking about a country with a low population and only a few hundred murders every year, we would expect significant annual variations, so the limited statistics provided by the web page don't prove much either way. For other categories of crime, where the incidence numbers in the tens or hundreds of thousands rather than in the hundreds, we would expect random annual fluctuations as a percent change to be less dramatic. Regardless, only sophisticated regression analysis, which to my knowledge has not been attempted, could hope to sort out the various causal factors affecting the homicide rate.
The biggest mistake -- more like intentional deception -- made by supporters of the gun ban has been to ignore crime which doesn't directly involve the use of a gun. Yet it's obvious that, if fewer citizens are armed, criminals will tend to commit more crime on the whole, whether or not they use a gun to do so. John Lott's study of American crime rates bears out this point. In addition, if fewer citizens are armed, some criminals will feel safe with more primitive weaponry like knives. Thus, it's appropriate to look at overall crime rates, rather than only crime rates involving the criminal use of a gun. I urge the reader to do just that at the Australian government's web page previously linked.
To offer some idea of how some supporters of Australia's gun ban have manipulated the data, I'll quote from a letter written by Sandi Logan, Counselor of Public Affairs from the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C., published by the Rocky Mountain News on October 3, 1999. Logan begins:
Recent columns and letters in the News have questioned whether new gun-control laws in Australia have made it a safer place. The answer is a resounding "yes."
But Australia's official crime statistics do not bear out Logan's assertion.
Contrary to some claims, gun-related crimes have dropped. In 1996, before the nationwide agreement on firearms -- where self-loading rifles and shotguns and pump-action shotguns were banned, and where a comprehensive registration system for all firearms was introduced -- Australia recorded 348 homicides. By 1998, two years later, this had dropped to 333. Likewise the rate of homicides per 100,000 people has dropped from 1.90 in 1996 to 1.78 in 1998. Simply put: Firearms are being used less often in murder, attempted murder, assault, sexual assault and armed robbery.
As noted, the decline in the murder rate is small and the causes of that decline have not been determined. Logan's comment about firearms being used less often in armed robbery is deceptive, given the dramatic increase in armed robbery overall. From 1996 to 1998 armed robberies increased from 6,256 to 10,850, a 73% increase. The crime statistics cited do not describe whether assaults were committed with the use of a gun, but it's clear that assaults over-all are up dramatically, from 114,156 in 1996; to 124,500 in 1997; to 132,967 in 1998. That's a 16% increase over the two year span.
The crime statistics support several points. First, the Australian gun ban is not responsible for the slight decrease in the murder rate, since that rate spiked in 1997 following the ban. Second, the ban seems to be responsible for dramatic increases in most other types of crime, including assault and armed robbery. Finally, Australian officials who support disarmament laws have no more aversion to using statistical manipulation and deception than do American officials who support disarmament laws.