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
"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
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]
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
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. …