Australia is one of the safest countries in the world, so why do we still have guns at home?

By Ayla Darling

This year Australia was rocked by two of the ugliest mass filicides*. In Western Australia grandfather Peter Miles shot his wife Cynda, their daughter Katrina, and her four children before turning the gun on himself. Then two months later, John Edwards shoots his two teenage children, before killing himself at his home in New South Wales – both were licensed gun holders.

*The deliberate act of a parent killing their own child.

Recent data collected by Philip Alpers, the founding director of GunPolicy.org, indicates from January 1987 to August 2018, 14 mass shootings in Australia left 116 dead and 56 wounded by gunfire. All of the perpetrators were men. 53% of perpetrators were licensed gun owners, 91% of perpetrators had no previous history of violent crime and 80% of perpetrators had no previous history of mental illness.

While 22 victims of mass shootings were killed by men with a known history of mental illness, 57 out of 108 victims were shot by previously law-abiding, licensed gun owners using legally held firearms.

Philip Alper’s report claims New South Wales has allowed people to use firearms more widely than any other jurisdiction.

“Every state has weakened firearm legislation since the post-Port Arthur National Firearms Agreement, which was supposed to be set in stone,” he said.

“Opponents of public health measures to reduce the availability of firearms often claim that ‘killers just find another way.’ Our findings show the opposite: there is no evidence of murderers moving to other methods,” he said.

Psychologist Helen McGrath, author of Mind Behind The Crime a novel investigating the triggers behind murder/suicides, believes mental illness cannot be an excuse nor the only indicator for filicides. She says killers often do research to see how other murder/suicides were reported in the media before picking up a firearm and using it against their families.

“What we’ve seen countless times is men who are under a lot of pressure do not seek professional help. They often feel extreme levels of shame toward their mental health and feel suicide is the only answer. The issue however is often these men feel their families cannot survive without them. They then research how the media portrayed other murder/suicides before turning the firearms on themselves and family,” she said.

Helen believes a combination of men’s access to firearms and the ‘good guy’ narrative are to blame. She feels fatalities would be greatly reduced if men didn’t have access to guns at home, believing killing your entire family would become logistically difficult if the only weapon available was a knife or bare hands.

“We need to stop painting these guys as “good fathers” who one day decided to kill their families due to mental health problems. Good parents don’t go out and shoot their children. It’s that simple.” she said.

Helen also believes filicide are not a result of a parent ‘snapping’ one day, but a calculated act of selfishness.

The map below indicates the number of recorded mass shootings in NSW. Each marker represents the perpetrator and indicates whether they had a history of mental health, a history of violence and if the firearm was licensed to the killer. If you click on the red markers, details such as the number of victims, weapon type (shotgun/rifle) and the number of guns currently listed in the suburb will show.

In NSW out of the 10 mass shootings/murder/suicides, eight of the firearms used in the assault were licensed.

Click on the link to see details:  Mass Shootings NSW

John* a firearms owner living in NSW obtained his two rifles a little over a year ago and feels more support needs to be provided by NSW Firearms Registry.

“I don’t think guns should be taken away from gun owners, but I do find it strange we never receive support pamphlets in the mail from the Firearms Registry. They should at the very least be sending out information about mental health and should be checking in to see how we are going,” he said.

“I suffer from mental health problems, I have clinical anxiety and I never once had to declare this to the registry. I don’t think my mental health should be used against me however if I was ever going to kill myself I would definitely use my gun,” he said.

Below is the P650 form, this application is the first step toward obtaining a personal firearm. The P650 is handed to a shooting range where they conduct a firearms safety training course. Hopeful gun owners are then provided with a temporary shooters club membership for as little as $11 – by law you must be a member of a shooters club to require your own personal firearms.

Within the P650, prospective members are only required to identify a history of violent crime or family disputes if it occurred within a 10 year period and are ask if they believe they can safely handle a gun given their current mental health. They are not required to provide a psychological evaluation nor do NSW Police force have access to the personal files of new shooters unless they have been committed under the Mental Health Act 2007.

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The map below indicates the alarming number of registered firearms in NSW per postcode, originally reported here by Greens MP David Shoebridge.

Finally, there is the elephant in the room: gun suicide. In 2015, 77% of firearm-related deaths in Australia were resulting from self-inflicted gunshot wounds, an alarming rate of these were men as seen in the below table.

President of the Australian Men’s Rights Association, Robert Brockway believes men are driven to suicide because of an unfair bias in the family courts judicial system.

“Our government completely favours women. Men are pushed over the edge when faced with custody battles over their children. We are told to give up and accept fatherlessness and are provided with little-to-no support.” he said.

“How do you expect men to cope when women are favoured so highly in the judicial system and we are constantly told we are domestic violence abusers,” he said.

Robert isn’t surprised men choose to kill themselves with guns more than women.

“Of course they do. What does anyone expect them to do in such bias situations? I completely understand why a man would choose to kill themselves in today’s societfy. Women just get more support.” he said.

Below shows the harrowing number of gun-related suicides that have occurred between 2009 – 2015 by gender which begs the question: Are Australian gun laws unnecessarily putting men, women, and children at risk?

If you are in immediate danger call 000 now. If you require advice or assistance, the following services can offer counselling and support: Lifeline 13 11 14; Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; MensLine Australia 1300 789 978.

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