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International Firearms Safety Seminar

International Firearms Safety Seminar

21 to 23 February, Christchurch

Presentation Summaries for Media

19 February 2006

More Education, Less Legislation - Mark Barnes

Laws and regulations differ by country, but the need for firearms safety is global. Firearms safety critically depends on the behavior of gun owners, regardless of where they live. Risk factors grow out of the particular circumstances of individuals in society and the extent of their responsible behavior. But no amount of responsible behavior can totally prevent accidents. And unfortunately, in the United States, some state governments now punish such accidents with criminal, as well as civil, penalties.

This paper will argue that teaching people to use their guns safely and encouraging them to follow safe practices is a more effective way of preventing injuries than any regulatory regime. In support of this argument, this paper will review the findings from a number of studies that focus on unintentional gun injuries.

New South Wales Sports Shooting Injuries Report - Mark Barnes

In his paper Don Barton discusses the NSW Sports Shooting Injuries Report of August 2000 which showed that competitive sports shooting is a remarkably safe sport compared to sports generally. When compared with other sports injuries, the sole injury recorded (which was a non-firearm one) paled in comparison to the multiple injuries found in other sports. The worst sports indicated by the “Sports Injury Survey – Pilot Project in the ACT” 1988/89 showed that the three disciplines of rugby in Australia were by far more dangerous than sports shooting.

The most number of injuries in this survey belonged to Rugby Union with 56 followed by Australian Rules (46) and then Rugby League (44). A further study in 1982 “Sports Injury Survey – Final Report” showed that the worst number of injuries belonged to soccer (155) followed by rugby league and netball (140 each).

When comparing the evidence of sports shooting study against general firearm injuries it proves that competitive sports shooting is safer than the general use of firearms.

This study was the first of its kind in Australia and represented an important in-road into an area of research that had been lacking. It also provided some important findings at a time when public perception of firearm ownership and use was extremely negative.

Firearms Legislation and Reductions in Firearm Related Suicide Deaths in New Zealand - Annette Beautrais

In this paper, Annette Beautrais examines the impact of introducing more restrictive firearms legislation in New Zealand, on suicides involving firearms. She details the background of suicide prevention, in particular, the availability of guns playing a role in impulsive suicide attempts among young men.

The legislative changes in 1992 (i.e. the Amendment to the Arms Act) provided a natural experiment which made it possible to examine the impact of more restrictive legislation on rates of suicide by firearms. This resulted in a comparison of suicide by firearms before, during and after implementation of the Amendment to the Arms Act 1992 as well as other comparisons and explorations of information.

Small Arms Research in the Pacific Islands - David Capie

This paper (to be provided in absentia due to illness) provides an overview of the state of research on illicit small arms trafficking in the South Pacific. Despite some alarming headlines, the Pacific is not plagued by the kind of illicit weapons flows that have affected other parts of the globe. Apart from Papua New Guinea, the region is also comparatively free from gun violence and armed conflict.

However, the misuse and proliferation of illicit firearms is a growing concern. Weak state institutions and limited capacities to enforce existing laws means that the present situation cannot be taken for granted.

Addressing the problem should begin with improved firearms laws, secure armouries and improved weapons controls, but it will ultimately require a long-term commitment to improving levels of governance and strengthening state capacity throughout the region.

Casualties from Firearm Accidents: Trends Since 1935 - Chaz Forsyth

This paper examines trends in firearm accident (unintentional) casualty data provided by NZ Police and NZ Mountain Safety Council (Inc) from 1935 to 2004. Firearm accidents have steadily declined, with notable reductions in the early 1950s, the early 1970s and the late 1990s. Whilst Scott and Scott (2005) estimates that this fall in total number of firearms accidents reduced annual societal cost by 253%, they recommend that significant spending is justified to further reduce firearm accidents even further. The analysis falls into two parts.

The first discusses the multitude of factors that may have lead to changes in the casualty rate from firearm accidents such as: volume of firearms, proportion of the firearm-owning population, proportion of 'high risk' population, greater awareness of the need for firearm safety, wider knowledge of first aid, improved firearm owner licensing provisions, inter alia.

The second part will conduct formal time series analysis to examine the linkages between the economic, educational and institutional factors listed above. This will greatly extend on the conjectures put forth in Scott and Scott (2005) and the noted correlations between access to guns and risk of death by in the US by Rushforth (1974) and Canada by Chapdelaine and Maurice (1996).

State and Civil Society Working in Collaboration for Firearm Safety - Joe Green and Mike Spray

In this paper NZ Police Inspector Joe Green and Mountain Safety Council firearm safety programme manager Mike Spray explain the collaboration at both a national and local level between NZ Police and Mountain Safety Council, the result of which is “safe communities together”.

The NZ Police hold responsibility for the Arms Act 1983 and Arms Regulations 1992; both of which promote the safe use and control of firearms and other weapons. NZ Police’s core philosophy is one of community oriented policing, predicated on public cooperation. Regulation 14 of the Arms Regulations 1992 requires that every applicant for a Firearms Licence undergo a course of training and pass a theoretical test conducted by a member of the Police or a person approved for the purpose by a member of the Police.

The MSC’s purpose is to enable people to enjoy their recreation safely in the outdoors. This includes the sporting use of firearms. Firearms Safety Instructors warranted by MSC are the only persons approved by NZ Police to deliver the training and testing of Firearms Licence applicants required under Regulation 14 of the Arms Regulations 1992.

These findings add to a growing body of international evidence which suggests that regulatory access to firearms may have positive effects in reducing the use of firearms in impulsive suicide attempts, particularly by young men.

The British Handgun Ban: Logic, Politics and Effect - Colin Greenwood

In this paper (to be presented in absentia due to illness) Colin Greenwood looks at the 1997 ban on handguns in Britain and explores its logic and effect. In essence, this piece of legislation, like most other arms control legislation in Britain before it, has had little effect on crime regardless of the fact that it was forced as a result of the Dunblane Massacre in Scotland that claimed the lives of one teacher and 16 children. The gunman, Thomas Hamilton, also killed himself.

The ensuing media frenzy about the killings and a committed campaign to ban handguns (and perhaps all guns if at all possible) did lead to a change in legislation. However, were it not for an impending General Election the legislation which banned handguns may not have happened at all, or at least, not in the form it was pushed through.

This was not the first time that a tragedy had forced harsher gun controls on British citizens. The 1987 Hungerford Massacre when Michael Ryan ran amok in a small rural village with an AK 47 and a pistol killing 16 and injuring 15 more had provided an opportunity for such change. This, along with the legislation after the Dunblane Massacre showed a trend of responding to a high profile firearms incident by enacting new legislation on firearms.

Guns at Home: To Lock or Not to Lock - John Lott Jnr

It is frequently assumed that safe storage gun laws reduce accidental gun deaths and total suicides, while the possible impact on crime rates are ignored. However, given existing work on the adverse impact of other safety laws, such as safety caps for storing medicine, even the very plausible assumption of reduced accidental gun deaths cannot be taken for granted.

This research analyses both state and county data spanning twenty years in the US, but it finds no support that safe storage laws reduce either juvenile accidental gun deaths or suicides. Instead, these storage requirements appear to impair people's ability to use guns defensively.

Because accidental shooters also tend to be the ones most likely to violate the new law, safe storage laws increase violent and property crimes against low risk citizens with no observable offsetting benefit in terms of reduced accidents or suicides.

Hubris in the North: The Canadian Firearms Registry - Gary Mauser

In this paper, Gary Mauser investigates the implementation of the Canadian Firearms Registry of 1998 on public safety. The results of this investigation are somewhat pessimistic, as Mauser himself agrees. In essence, Mauser has found that the Firearms Registry was expensive and ineffective in ensuring or improving public safety.

Although his paper is a preliminary effort to evaluate the effects of the registry he says that expert opinion was divided about the potential of such legislation.

On the basis of Mauser’s research and results, public safety cannot be said to have been improved in Canada by the Firearms Registry because overall criminal violence and suicide rates remain unchanged. He says perhaps the most striking change is that gang-related homicides and homicides involving handguns have increased substantially.

He points out that as New Zealand discovered decades ago, a firearms registry is an expensive proposition that may not be worth the effort.


An Overview of Firearms Theft in Australia - Jenny Mouzos

The theft of firearms poses a potential threat to society as they may result in some firearms being linked to injury, violence or criminal activities. Without the collection of accurate and detailed information on the nature of firearms theft, it is difficult to determine the level of risk posed by stolen firearms.

This presentation provides an overview of the circumstances and characteristics of firearms theft in Australia based on data collected over a six-month period in 2004. It examines details of the types of firearms stolen, locations vulnerable to theft, the modus operandi of the offenders, as well as the level of compliance in the secure storage of firearms by their owners.

Future directions for policy and practice will also be discussed.

Please note, this paper will not be provided prior to its delivery at the Seminar.

Women and Disarmament: What can be learnt from conflicts in Solomon Islands, Bougainville and PNG? - Carol Nelson

Women are under-utilised in peace and reconciliation processes. Women have an important role to play in establishing and maintaining peace and in stigmatising weapons abuse. All too frequently women are excluded from a formal role and find themselves initiating informal peace and disarmament activities as a result of the devastation they witness.

At the height of the recent civil tension in the Solomon Islands women in Honiara formed Women for Peace, a non-aligned, multi-ethnic group with the aim of restoring peace and pursuing reconciliation. One of the objectives of Women for Peace was “to convince the fighting parties to lay down their arms and thus open the way to democracy and good governance in Solomon Islands”.

These women held meetings with militants and crossed fighting lines to take essential items to families innocently caught up in the tension. They were also effective in drawing attention to the social and human consequences of the fighting. Yet, despite their active role and the understanding they had developed of the situation, they and others of civil society were excluded from the negotiations that eventually brought a form of peace.

This presentation will explore some of the contributions that women have made to disarmament in recent conflicts in the Solomon Islands, Bougainville and Papua New Guinea, and how lessons learned can be applied more widely.

The Firearm Safety Equation - Rick Patterson

Firearm safety and safety education focus on the prevention of accidents. Accidents are unintended events, typically a chain of events that lead to unplanned and unwanted outcomes.

Safety has two components: design and operating procedures. Setting standards to ensure that firearms and ammunition work in harmony is what the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI) is all about.

Since 1926, SAAMI has established the standards that ensure safety and reliability. On the operating procedures side, there are only 10 simple rules to safe operations of a firearm. Communicating safe operating procedures to the public can be difficult. The media spends more time on the unrelated issue of the willful misuse of a firearm to intentionally cause harm to another or to ones-self.

The firearms industry and its partners in the United States have found ways to get the message out and have been very successful in their efforts to prevent unintentional consequences.


The Incident Scene Will Speak to You, You Must Listen for the Sake of Prevention - Rod Slings

Rod Slings’ paper regarding hunting incidents begins with the International Hunter Education Association’s definition of a Hunting Incident: “An occurrence or an event that results in the physical injury or death of a person or persons which involves the discharge or use of a hunting implement while engaged in hunting activity.”

With this in mind Slings indicates that the focus on safe use of firearms has become more important as hunting receives more scrutiny. Therefore the skill and knowledge of safe firearm handling is the foundation of keeping hunting the safe activity it has become.

Slings points out that a good investigation of a hunting “incident” is vital in determining how a hunting incident occurred and therefore how to prevent further incidents. Research of hunting related incidents is the key to prevention.

South Australia’s Firearms Safety Program for Unsupervised Shooters: Ten Years of Steady Progress - Geoff Smith

South Australia began a new era in public firearms safety in 1993 with the adoption of the amended Firearms Act 1977. This was three years before the Port Arthur massacre which forced the rest of Australia to reform gun laws.

A key feature of the revised legislation was the recognition that each different purpose for which firearms were legally permitted required specific training. Therefore different groups set up their own training schemes. The bulk were directed to a training course offered by Technical and Further Education (TAFE) Colleges across the state. Before establishing the courses, a planning committee set up in 1988 had decided that the TAFE system was the most logical agency through which to offer the training.

The situation now is that at the end of 2005 more than 17,000 people have completed the TAFE SA Firearms Course. Clubs cooperating with the TAFE program are generally happy with the arrangements and have gained new members as a result. Anecdotal reports suggest a pleasing decline in road sign vandalism and other anti-social misuse of guns and a general increase in compliance with hunting laws.

Perhaps the most significant achievement of the course (and the other concurrent legal changes) has been the reduction in unintentional firearms deaths in SA. Nationally, 245 deaths from unintentional shootings were reported between 1993 and 2002. In SA, there has not been a single genuine case to now of an unintentional shooting (with the exception of a very intoxicated 35-year-old male who died in 2003 after “losing” playing Russian roulette – this was classed as a suicide, however).

Emma Watkins - Breaking the Barriers: Rural Maori perception of the barriers to obtaining a New Zealand firearms licence

Information received from credible sources indicates that the issue of rural Maori being unlicensed firearms owners and users has been apparent for a very long time. This is an ongoing problem within the Bay of Plenty district.

Earlier meetings with Maori communities have given indicators as to the reasons for non-licensing, signifying that this is also a problem for the Maori population and one that they themselves also wish to address. Police Arms Control staff identified a number of factors which are believed to be the main barriers to rural Maori obtaining a firearms licence, and through results of a survey implemented by local Iwi Liaison Officers from the New Zealand Police on local iwi and hapu, hope to gain further insight into these barriers and learn possible new ones.

The study is ongoing and surveys are being regularly received from different locations within the Bay of Plenty. So far the results are very interesting and indicate problems that were not originally considered by the research team.

The results of this study will be analysed further, then used to implement solutions and ensure ongoing strategies are set in place.

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