NRA Has Our Gun Laws All Wrong, Say Australians ; an NRA Infommercial and Web Site Video Is under Fire for Saying Violence Has Increased after Gun Control

Article excerpt

Ever since it severely tightened gun laws in the aftermath of the 1996 massacre of 35 people by a lone gunman in historic Port Arthur, Australia has been held up as an example by gun control advocates all over the world.

But that has now made the land Down Under a target for the National Rifle Association of America (NRA), which in its bid to block stricter gun laws from going into effect in the US has this week found itself in a fight with the Australian government.

In a half-hour television ad broadcast in the US and over its Web site, the NRA claims that since the so-called Port Arthur laws were introduced, Australia has seen a rise in crime of epidemic proportions.

"If you follow politics at all, you know a lot of people in Washington want to take away your right to keep and bear arms," NRA president Charlton Heston says in the video. "The truth is, they've got the whole world in their sights."

Since the new laws were introduced in Australia, the video goes on to claim, armed robberies have risen 69 percent. Assaults with guns have increased 28 percent. And murders with guns have gone up 19 percent.

A narrator ominously describes "gun laws that have backfired and Australians that have been forced to hide behind bars and dead bolts" as the camera pans over a deserted suburban street.

The problem is that according to the Australian government - and official statistics - the NRA has its facts wrong and may just have the wrong target in its sights.

"There are many things that Australia can learn from the United States. How to manage firearm ownership is not one of them," Australia's attorney general, Daryl Williams, wrote in a letter sent Thursday to Mr. Heston, demanding that what Mr. Williams called a misleading portrayal of Australia be pulled off the air.

Williams told reporters this week: "One gets somewhat outraged when an organization based in the United States, where there are 11,000 firearms homicides in one year, is telling us our gun laws fail when our statistics show that in 1998 there [were] only 54 firearms homicides, which was a significant reduction from [the] previous year."

NRA spokesman Bill Powers in Fairfax, Va., did not want to comment on the video yesterday, but says of Williams's request: "I'm sure that's something we'll look at."

According to Jenny Mouzos, a research analyst at the Australian Institute of Criminology, the figures used by the NRA are downright misleading.

For instance, Ms. Mouzos says, although armed robberies in Australia have indeed increased since 1996, the portion of those involving firearms has actually decreased.

In 1997 there were 2,185 robberies involving firearms in Australia, 24.1 percent of all armed robberies. But in 1998 that fell to 1,910 and 17.6 percent, according to data compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The number of murders involving guns has also fallen, according to Mouzos, from 99 (including the 35 killed at Port Arthur) in 1996 to 54 in 1998.

That doesn't necessarily mean Australia's gun-control bid is working, Mouzos cautions. "It's too early to tell," she says. "But if you look at the figures, because there have been declines, they are encouraging." The Australian figures are tough to read for trends because they are so small and therefore statistically volatile, Mouzos says.

But that is another reason the Australian government is incensed with the NRA's attack - the level of gun-related violence in Australia simply doesn't compare to that seen in the US. …