Book Review: 'Gun Control' by David Leyonhjelm - The Loose Cannon
BOOK REVIEW: DAVID LLEYONHELM ‘GUN CONTROL: WHAT AUSTRALIA DID, HOW OTHER COUNTRIES DID IT AND IS ANY OF IT SENSIBLE’
‘Gun Control: what Australia did, how other countries do it and is any of it sensible’ is a book by David Lleyonhelm, (‘DL’) a man who, as a former Liberal Democrat Senator, needs no introduction.
The book opens with a comment that the Australian Gun Control debate barely qualifies as a debate at all. He views it as a two-way fight, with lawful firearms owners on one side and anti-gunners on the other. The book he says is written for people in the middle. DL remarks that the pro-gun voice fails to get adequate coverage.
I believe the audience is broader than that. DL is right, the pro-gun voice does fail to get adequate coverage, but it is also factionalised, and some chapters in this book could be of use to shooters who wish to better argue their case.
At the other extreme, one often hears from politicians who defend the gun laws yet know little about it- as evidenced by the Hon David Elliot being in unauthorised possession of a prohibited weapon whilst on a ministerial visit. One hopes someone slips a copy of this book into the Hon Member’s Christmas stocking!
As the target audience have no real experience with guns, or any real understanding of the issues, the book opens with a summary of lawful firearms activities, the issue of self-defence, and correctly highlights the practical reality that in extremis, people would use firearms for self-defence.
DL moves on to summarise the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), and to discuss Australia’s path toward gun control.
In Chapter 4, DL states that at that time, ‘neither coalition nor Labor had a policy to radically control firearms’. I disagree. Declassified documents indicate that during the last Hawke Cabinet meeting there was a resolution passed that dealt with the implementation of national gun control, and it is my understanding that from that time on there was a small policy cell in the Attorney General’s Department that was working toward that goal.
In the 1980’s there was also enough academic interest on the gun control issue for a conference to occur at the University of Western Australia at Nedlands that featured two prominent American firearms academics, (Professors Zimring & Kates) and for two books to be published in Australia. See Richard Harding ‘Firearms and violence in Australian life’ (1981), and also David Fine ‘Gun Laws proposals for reform’ (1988).
So, the events of 1996 were hardly unheralded.
On p40 DL remarks on errors in Police material on the QPOL website. The ignorance is greater than that. Few Firearms Registry personnel, or line Police have much of an understanding about the gun laws, firearms, or the people they seek to regulate, and this is symptomatic of a system where legislative reform tends to involve band aid laws based on knee jerk public policy added to already poorly researched and drafted band aid laws, with no competent examination of the efficiency and effectiveness of the law occurring.
A chapter on firearms follows, it provides an introduction into the various types of firearm, and action. This chapter also contains a useful discussion of silencers.
Interestingly in covering air powered firearms including Airsoft, there is no discussion of Gel Blaster ‘toy’ firearms which are technically firearms in most states.
Chapter 7 analyses the effectiveness of the Howard gun laws. The few peer reviewed papers in existence and papers from ‘grey literature’- that is to say government sources that are peer reviewed, leads to the conclusion that ‘quite simply the evidence does not show that the Howard gun laws had any significant impact on firearms homicides and suicides’.
Interestingly the research undertaken all occurred between the years 2003-2010. There has been practically no research since.
We now have a quarter of a century long snapshot of life under the NFA, yet there is a dearth of research in the area happening today. Few academics venture into the field because the politically incorrect nature of the work could prove career limiting, and government researchers have little desire to venture there, because agencies who commission research probably wish to avoid it for fear that it may undermine the funding of bureaucratic empires.
At page122 there is a remark that ‘the buyback should never have been called that’ because the firearms never belonged to the government in the first place, and so the government could hardly be said to be buying them back. I confess that I had never looked at the buyback that way, but he is right. Rather it was a forced appropriation of private assets without appropriate justification, in other words, a misappropriation.
An analysis of gun laws overseas follows. These have different authorship, and cover Mexico, NZ, Switzerland, UK, Ireland, India, Czech Republic, Malaysia, USA.
These chapters are important, because they provide a useful analysis of a range of different approaches adopted. The choice for Australia was not between the US ‘RTBA’ approach and the model that Australia adopted, nor was Australia ever on the same path as the United States as Mr Howard claimed.
There are useful summary tables throughout the book, and a smattering of summaries and post scripts that assist the less academic reader navigate the text.
Chapter 10 turns to moral and philosophical arguments for gun ownership. Few of the political left today would appreciate that the founding fathers of socialism supported private firearms ownership, although the attitude of many socialists changed once power was achieved, and the issue became one of retention of power rather than its acquisition!
Importantly he discusses John Stuart Mill’s ‘harm principle’, and the defence against genocide and oppression, racist aspects of gun control and self-defence.
Chapter 11 discusses the ‘Myths’ of Guns, and appearance laws.
Chapter 12 examines ‘sensible’ gun laws, and it analyses and critiques all of the popular mechanisms used to regulate firearms, while remaining silent in respect to a recommended model.
The book makes various references to incidents of unfairness in the treatment of shooters. Given its target audience, I would have liked to see these organised, and for a greater number of examples to be provided, as few Australians appreciate how unjustly shooters are treated by Police, and how systemic this injustice is.
For example, while nobody would question the propriety of securing firearms, there is certainly no cause-effect relationship between the failure to secure a particular firearm and its misuse, yet the authorities, and Courts, behave as though there is.
The result is disproportionate penalties, that are not comparable to penalties administered for crimes of equal or greater danger.
The penalty for driving a car whilst using a mobile telephone in NSW is five demerit points, and a $349 fine ($464 in a school zone). This is broadly comparable to the Firearms Regulation 1997 Sch 1, penalty notice for breaching Firearms Act 1996 s39 storage requirements which is a $550 fine with no loss of points.
However, Police rarely elect to issue penalty notices for this offence in NSW, preferring prosecution. Under the Firearms Act 1996 the maximum penalty for this offence is a ludicrously disproportionate 50 penalty units (@ $110 per unit = $5,500) or two years imprisonment!
It is left to the poor magistrate to temper the excessive zeal of Parliament, and they do so by imposing a penalty that frequently involves a conviction, a fine of $750, and forfeiture of the offending firearm (including fitted accessories such as telescopic sight).
Administrative action to cancel one’s firearms licence together with the impact of a mandatory disqualification period of ten year then follows.
The ten-year disqualification period that applies in NSW, (double that prescribed in the NFA), exists because of the grandstanding of the then Premier, Bob Carr, who wanted NSW laws to be ‘twice as tough as everyone else’s!’, It has no sound policy basis, but then nor does the Firearms Act!
VERDICT: This book is refreshingly balanced, and objective in its analysis of the subject matter, and I was left with an impression that DL tended to understate many issues in a quest for objectivity when faced with an audience whose thoughts would almost certainly have been contaminated to some extent by societies all-pervasive indoctrinated belief in gun control.
It should be mandatory reading for journalists, politicians and their staffers.
The book is also of considerable interest to shooters as well, but they may choose to skim some of the earlier chapters because of their introductory nature.
I would have liked to see solutions offered, however, I can see that by not doing so, DL may be demonstrating his cleverness. When challenging widely held beliefs that relate to a partisan issue, it can sometimes be best to present the evidence and let the audience reach their own conclusions.
Having said that, the astute reader would have little difficulty reasoning what DL’s conclusions would be, and the key can be found in the reference to John Stuart Mill’s harm principle: "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others’.
I would recommend anyone interested in understanding Australian firearms laws read this book, together with that of Dr Tom Frame AM ‘Gun Control: What Australia got right (and wrong). Dr Frame’s book does not, as my review highlighted, answer the question pondered in its title, but it is a useful analysis of the history of how poor public policy and thus law resulted following Port Arthur, so they cover somewhat different territory.