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Men, women and guns

By Brian Holden - posted Thursday, 19 June 2008


Why so many guns?

Estimates vary as to the number of guns there are in this country. Whatever the number is, the half billion dollar buyback scheme following the 1996 Port Arthur shootings reduced it by 640,000 - while probably leaving over three million guns still out there. Why that huge number when we no longer have to hunt to eat or to defend our homes?

Men like the feel of guns. The games boys as young as five years of age play clearly shows that in the male mind, weapons are associated with maleness. Nevertheless, regardless of what their true feelings are, men in the public eye are anxious to disassociate themselves from guns.

The anti-gun beat-up

In 2001, there were 49 deaths from handguns in this country - with the total deaths from guns of every type being 333. As most of the 333 were male suicides, that number is no measure of the danger of guns to society: it is small relative to the number of deaths on the road and it is miniscule relative to the number of guns.

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There is another cause of premature death which is hard to get one’s head around. In 1995 the annual number of unnecessary deaths in hospitals was reported to the federal minister of health as being 14,000.

John Howard may be gone, but the picture he painted of the gun menace lives on. If he had a rage about the peril associated with a hospital admission, then I must have missed it. However, on several occasions I saw him rage on about gun control.

The killing of 35 people by one man at Port Arthur was a freak occurrence - but, to the government it was an opportunity to exploit. An attempt was made to generate an environment of fear within which the government can create an image of itself as our protector. (Howard’s focus on terrorism was even a grander attempt.)

As maybe more than three million men have hung onto their guns, the surrendered 640,000 may as well be still back in the hands of their owners. It would not matter much if there was a gun for every adult in this country as the number of guns has little bearing on the number of potential killers. Criminal types are immune to any gun control laws.

A good proportion of the guns still in homes would not have been bought by the owners. They are family heirlooms which the owners have no intention of surrendering. However, one benefit to come out of the tougher gun control laws was that the owners of guns became more aware of the need to keep their gun secure.

Why 30,000 a year die by gunshot in the US

The US has a long-established culture of guns as a symbol survival:

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  • as they had a war of independence in which the citizenry overthrew an oppressive government using their own personal weapons;
  • as there was a far, far greater number of people in their 19th century frontier exposed to lawlessness (due to primitive communications) than in our 19th century frontier; and
  • as they had a civil war in which millions of men were armed by the state for doing battle on their own soil.

Against this historical background, firearms were easily purchased over the counter for many years. Many of the handguns then found their way into the hands of resentful, unemployed, young men living in ghettos who were served by an unsympathetic welfare system (compared to our own), and whose sick parents were not able to afford medical treatment.

There are millions of guns in Australia, and yet few are killed by them. We have a very different culture to the US. No valid extrapolation can be made from the situation there to the likely situation here.

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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