21 April 2008

In the spirit of the 2020 Summit, academics have released startling new evidence about the impact of Australian gun laws, and argue that future public policy must differentiate between what does and does not work.

In a new peer-reviewed study, Dr Samara McPhedran from the School of Psychology, and her colleague Dr Jeanine Baker, who also hold executive positions in the International Coalition for Women in Shooting and Hunting, show that the accumulated studies on Australia’s 1996 gun bans and half billion dollar ‘buyback’ do not point to an impact.

The authors say that this provides a clearer foundation for evidence based policy development, particularly within the area of suicide prevention.

“This research will enhance the ability of policymakers to build upon inclusive programmes that have delivered outcomes, such as the National Suicide Prevention Strategy, rather than pursue measures that do not achieve the stated goals.”

The study evaluated whether past published studies on the impact of the 1996 laws on firearm related homicide and suicide are consistent with one another.

“Using different analysis methods and time periods, none of the four studies found evidence for an impact of the laws on the pre-existing decline in firearm homicides,” said Dr McPhedran.

“The statistical outcomes were in complete agreement, even though the conclusions varied.”

According to the new study, disagreement over whether or not the 1996 legislative changes had an impact has not arisen from inconsistent results, but from different ways in which the same results are interpreted.

“We identified a series of interpretive misunderstandings that give the appearance of inconsistency. For example, some studies conclude the laws had an impact on firearm suicides, without realising that non-firearm suicides also began falling from the late 1990s onwards.”

“This coincides with the introduction of comprehensive suicide prevention strategies, and implies that social changes such as greater awareness of mental health influenced suicides across the board.”

The overall consistencies revealed in the review, and identification of how the appearance of incongruent findings has been created, show that disagreement can be put to rest.

“Just as one swallow does not make a summer, a single study cannot definitively answer whether or not the laws had an effect. Collectively, though, the research has become a flock of swallows with a very clear direction.”