Seeking pre-1996 gun data

Does anyone know of Australian surveys conducted prior to 1996-97 (when we conducted the post-Port Arthur gun buyback) which asked about firearm ownership? Or whether any state or federal governments kept good data on how many guns each police station bought back? I’ve been chasing this one for some time now, but keep coming up a blank.

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21 Responses to Seeking pre-1996 gun data

  1. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Bad luck. Sorry. Tim, Lisa and I wanted to do a paper on attitudes to guns (similar to our terrorism paper), before and after Port Arthur. Like you we had no luck in finding anything.

  2. mister z says:

    have you tried contacting Professor Simon Chapman at USyd – head of the Coalition for Gun Control before and during the Port Arthur era.

  3. ChrisPer says:

    Have you asked the SSAA? If you are honestly doing research they will be glad to help. Dr Jeanine Baker is very knowledgeable and helpful – email .

    Have you read the seminal Harding, Richard 1980 ‘Firearms and Violence in Australian Life’? Lots of information there.

    How about the Australian Institute of Criminology Trends and Issues series (available online)? Early gun papers may have useful references.

    Australian Criminology’s Integrity Test at – research bias issues.

    Anything by Simon Chapman you should filter for activist bias. If you want laughs, go to the Gun Control Australia site which is pretty much bile. Don’t bother with the National Coalition for Gun Control; they don’t have a website. Search for Samantha Lee their spokesperson; some online press releases eg at may have her mobile number. They are a fairly shadowy organisation, and publish nothing except press releases and advertisements.

  4. ChrisPer says:

    I KNOW I have read attitude surveys quoted in the 1996 media. ABS have stats on ‘gun deaths’, but not sure about attitudes. I think your best bet is the big polling companies.

    From the Canadian scene you may find papers by H Taylor Buckner and Gary Mauser reporting their attitude surveys within university students offer some frameworks for interpreting the none-too-detailed surveys reported as ‘62% think we should have less guns’ in the media.

  5. ChrisPer says:

    Andrew, have you dropped this idea entirely or is it appropriate to discuss it some more?

  6. Andrew Leigh says:

    Definitely still ongoing. Thanks also for the Jeanine Baker tip – she wrote me a useful reply.

  7. ChrisPer says:

    I am keeping my eyes open for you!

    Found some doubtful poll data on a rant page; Google’s cache of as retrieved on 5 Feb 2005 07:09:03 GMT

    March 3, 1994: Channel 7 offered a phone poll of “Australia’s Most Wanted” viewers.
    Q: Should a citizen have the right to self-defense with a firearm when attacked at home by an intruder?
    A: 13,414 ,YES……….315,NO……….97% in favour

    March 24-25, 1994: The Sun Herald-Sun asked

    Q: Should the Government ban keeping guns in homes?
    A; 1427,NO……….51,YES……….96.5% against.

    April 6, 1995: The Herald-Sun asked Victorians

    Q: Do you think (Victorian) gun laws are tough enough?
    A: 89% said YES.

  8. Andrew Leigh says:

    Chris, thanks for that. My favourite is the Australia’sMostWanted survey. If only they’d also asked them for their views on chemical castration for sex offenders….

    BTW, Jeanine was very friendly, but wasn’t able to offer any pre-96 data.

  9. ChrisPer says:

    Well, sorry I couldn’t help more. I have read for years how ‘polls say X’, and SURELY Morgan or Gallup have some historic data.

    Usually on gun matters you can bet that polling people in the street will give interesting results – because most are fully un-informed, the framing of the question and social afiliation biases will result in a high degree of ‘What I morally ought to think’ kind of responses. And when they are phone-in or targeted, the highly motivated ones who respond are either rabidly for or rabidly against, and in both cases are not well informed.

  10. Inky says:

    Re Andrew’s comments – for further commentary on the issue of people’s level of knowledge defining their response to firearm questions:

  11. Andrew Leigh says:

    Inky, the first half of this paper is very odd. It’s not clear to me why we should be surprised that those who don’t own guns know less about gun safety rules, or that owners and non-owners have different beliefs about the effects of gun ownership.

    The second half makes more sense, but the question has been tackled with more care by Jenny Mouzos.

  12. inky says:

    Andrew, came across that paper when researching for a paper – just thought you might be interested.

    Indeed it’s no surprise that the less people know about guns the less they know about the laws; what I found useful for my work, dealing with public opinion and policy making (I have used gun laws as one example), was that there were a few comments on how level of knowledge about gun laws might relate to people’s judgements, and what factors might contribute to their judgements if they don’t really have ‘objective’ info (or at least that is how I interpreted it). I found that helpful because I think that, in general, that angle on public opinion and policy often gets overlooked.

  13. ChrisPer says:

    I agree that the paper is a little unclear. Heowever, it seems to make the valid point that concepts are unclear in the ‘public mind’, in that ‘tightening’ gun laws is assumed to have a certain effect on violence, but that assumption not held by those who have actual knowledge of laws, and of the characters of individual gun owners.

    Having tested the assumptions vs knowledge of people, we moved to assumptions vs measured effects on suicide and homicide. The measured effects do not support the assumptions either.

    What is the assumption that was tested? That tightening gun laws reduces suicide and/or murder.

  14. Andrew Leigh says:

    Chris, the best evidence I’ve seen on this issue is Mark Duggan’s paper, “More Guns, More Crime” (, which I find way more empirically convincing than John Lott’s work of the opposite title.

  15. ChrisPer says:

    Thanks Andrew I will read that paper carefully.

    I read TIm Lambert’s stuff regularly so treat Lott with a lott of caution.

    However, the evidence as presented seems to be clear: there is little direct effect from shall issue laws one way or another, or the results would be obvious. So whether Lott fiddled a correlation or Duggan verifiably finds a correlation the other way, there is so little in it that people are not confronted with mind-changing evidence.

    Remember these authors are not looking at whther gun control helps; they are looking at whether licencing a selecct few civilians to carry affects crime trends.)

    There is one very clear piece of evidence though: that there was NOT a rash of OK-Corral deaths caused by the ordinary people who got licences as a result.

  16. James Mansfield says:

    Where can I buy a pistol to defend myself ..

  17. ChrisPer says:

    James. are you still there?

    Australian laws prohibit self-defense as a valid reason for issuing a licence. You are also prohibited from owning a bullet-proof vest or fortifying your home.

    If you are asking this out of a desire to be provocative, I recommend you grow up; if you really want one, your usual drug dealer can help.

  18. ChrisPer says:

    Recent information of value:
    Gun laws fall short in war on crime
    By Robert Wainwright October 29, 2005

    Gun ownership is rising and there is no definitive evidence that a decade of restrictive firearms laws has done anything to reduce weapon-related crime, according to NSW’s top criminal statistician.

    The latest figures show a renaissance in firearm ownership in the state – a 25 per cent increase in three years. And the head of the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn, said falls in armed robberies and abductions in NSW in the past few years had more to do with the heroin drought and good policing than firearms legislation.

    Even falls in the homicide rate, which have been steady, began long before the gun law debate provoked by the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

    Nationwide, the proportion of robberies involving weapons is the same as it was in 1996, while the proportion of abductions involving weapons is higher, the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics fiures reveal. They show a mixed result in firearms-related offences since the mid-1990s. There has been a fall in firearms murders (from 32 to 13 per cent) but a rise (19 to 23 per cent) in attempted murders involving guns.

    I would need to see more convincing evidence than there is to be able to say that gun laws have had any effect,” Dr Weatherburn said. “The best that could be said for the tougher laws is there has been no other mass killing using firearms [since Port Arthur].

    “There has been a drop in firearm-related crime, particularly in homicide, but it began long before the new laws and has continued on afterwards. I don’t think anyone really understands why. A lot of people assume that the tougher laws did it, but I would need more specific, convincing evidence …

    “There has been a more specific … problem with handguns, which rose up quite rapidly and then declined. The decline appears to have more to do with the arrest of those responsible than the new laws. As soon as the heroin shortage hit, the armed robbery rate came down. I don’t think it was anything to do with the tougher firearm laws.”

    The Shooters Party MP John Tingle agrees with this analysis but has decided to retire from politics next April because he is frustrated in his attempts to prevent further restrictions, even though the number of registered guns in NSW has jumped from 516,468 to 648,369 since 2002.

    “If the laws had worked there would be much less illegal gun crime … we are continuing this perception that if you tighten firearm laws you are going to control firearm crime, even though the opposite is true. Restrictive laws against legitimate ownership and use do nothing to stop gun-related crime because only law-abiding citizens will adhere to laws.”

    The Police Commissioner, Ken Moroney, supports the laws irrespective of the statistics. “I don’t think the laws have been designed to eliminate every firearm off the face of the Earth … but it has achieved proper registration, storage and more effective licensing. These measures have all been successful and John Tingle’s role should be acknowledged … he is a man of
    objectivity and fairness. He hasn’t been an advocate for advocacy sake.”

    Letter to the SMH editor from above-mentioned person:
    Loaded words pose a danger to gun reform
    Don Weatherburn’s scepticism that Australia’s Port Arthur gun laws have had “any effect” (“Gun laws fall short in war on crime”, October 29-30) will henceforth be cited by every gun-lusting lobby group throughout the world in their perverse efforts to stall reforms that could save thousands of lives.

    Yes, gun deaths were falling before Port Arthur, but they have continued downward. There were 521 gun deaths in Australia 1996, and 290 in 2003, a 44 per cent fall, despite population growth. A key platform of the 1996 gun laws was to remove from under the nation’s beds semi-automatic rifles capable of killing many people quickly. Since the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, there has been not one mass shooting incident (four or more deaths) in
    Australia. In the nine years before Port Arthur, there were 10 such incidents such as Strathfield, Hoddle and Queen streets, with 66 deaths, the majority caused by citizens with no criminal record.

    With one in 12 NSW adults now owning a gun, could we have the latest data on how many guns used by criminals are stolen from law-abiding citizens’ homes?

    Simon Chapman Professor of Public Health, University of Sydney

    Right back from criminologist:

    It may come as a surprise to Simon Chapman (Letters, October 31) but, like him, I too strongly supported the introduction of tougher gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre.

    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 prejudice.

    Dr Don Weatherburn NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Sydney

  19. ChrisPer says:

    Finally found one for you; slap me if you have it already.

    1. Technical issues relative to the supplementary questionnaires {on gun ownership and support for gun control}
    Graham-Clarke, Peita; Howell, Stuart; Bauman, Adrian; Nathan, Sally
    In: NSW health promotion survey 1994 : technical report / written by Peita Graham-Clarke et al. North Sydney, NSW : NSW Health Department, 1995; 50-51. graph. / ISBN 0 7310 0755 7 (State health publication; no. HP 950145)
    Within this health promotion survey several questions were asked on gun ownership and support for gun control (including gun registration and secure storage of guns). Page 80 of the document listed the questions asked and the answers which respondents may have given. Data showing the results of this portion of the survey was graphed for both rural and urban respondents.


    Australian Bureau of Statistics 1979, General Social Survey: firearm ownership, May 1975, ABS Catalogue No. 4106.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra.

    Harding, R. 1981, Firearms and Violence in Australian Life: an Examination of Gun Ownership and Use in Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Perth.

    What did you find elsewhere?

  20. Andrew Leigh says:

    Chris, I gave up. Unfortunately, I’m after a pre-buyback survey of national gun data by postcode. A NSW-only survey wouldn’t be sufficient.

    Thanks, though.

  21. ChrisPer says:

    Almost two years ago ago I proposed a $5000 prize for a national essay competition on measuring the effects of the buybacks. I sent this to a well-known lecturer in criminology, who thought it a great idea. Unfortunately, the people whose support would have been necessary as judges were against it.

    From: ChrisPer
    Sent: Wednesday, 19 May 2004 1:10 PM
    Subject: Idea for Criminology Essay Prize

    Thanks for your time on the phone to discuss this idea.
    As mentioned, I am considering setting up a prize for an essay competition around measuring the benefits and costs of the National Firearms Agreement. As you are aware, benefits are so far speculative and costs are very significant but published benefit-cost analysis has been ‘limited’.
    I would expect the entries to cover aspects of:
    Benefits of NAF social policy and how they can be explicitly accounted;
    Economic costs of the two Buybacks and NAF on every stakeholder sector, including recurrent costs;
    Appropriate ways to account costs externalised to individuals against benefits to the community ;
    Negative and positive impacts of the NAF on social behaviour and how they can be measured
    Media representations and how their effects can be measured
    How rational and evidence-based approaches might be applied to future firearms policy.
    I would like the first prize to be of the order $5000. This would be raised by grassroots fundraising including but not limited to participants in the shooting sports, mostly by myself. The prize might be named after a person or descriptively.

    Entrance would as you suggest be open. I think a limit of 2500 words would be appropriate, excluding a 150-word abstract and references.

    We would like the judging to be professional, independent of ourselves but also of other known axe-grinders. Because of my personal interest in critical thinking I would perhaps suggest that initial screening be on the basis of coherence, and a shortlist be submitted to a panel.

    Copyright would remain with the writer, one print and one web publication to be licenced to the sponsoring organisation. Where the writer is associated with an organisation that organisation should affirm the copyright assignment to the sponsors as a condition of entry. A volume of entries selected to cover the breadth of ideas presented would be published. I suspect it would sell fairly well!


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