The politics of guns 'n' ammo
28 March 2007
During Australia's gun buyback and amnesty programs, when more than 820,000 privately owned firearms were destroyed, nothing was left to chance. Large drums of sand were even provided at buyback stations for gun owners who turned up with fully loaded weapons, allowing them to be discharged in safety.
With help from a Sydney University researcher, Argentina has studied the fine details of Australia's successful firearm collection and destruction programs - the largest gun buyback in the world - and is now poised to implement a similar scheme.
Philip Alpers, from the School of Public Health, recently testified at a national Senate hearing in Argentina on the nation's Gun Buy Back Law, explaining the Australian program's 'best practice'. Two weeks after the hearing, the law passed through the national parliament.
"I spoke in support of the bill as well as cautioning the Argentine Government about the details of implementation," said Adjunct Associate ProfessorAlpers.
Professor Alpers has been studying gun-related issues in the Pacific region for several years. He has researched how Papua New Guinea benefited from a choke on ammunition imports from Australia, and has assessed the impact of gun buyback programs in Australia.
Around the world, thousands of firearm buybacks and gun amnesties have been attempted, but implementing a program safely and effectively takes intricate planning, according to Professor Alpers. They must address questions such as: Will gun owners bring the firearms to collection sites, or must the program visit every town? Will authorities cut up the weapons on site? If not, how can they be safely stored and destroyed? And what guns will be included in the buyback?
"In Argentina, the problem firearms tendto be hand guns and ex-military weapons. Most of the weapons came from existing military and civilian stocks - legal firearms that leaked out. During a buyback, you're going to treat a light machine gun differently to a pistol," explained Professor Alpers.
He said the public needs to see that the weapons are being destroyed "and that they're not heading out the back door". There should be a carefully managed public relations campaign and destruction of the firearms should take place in public, he said.
Many buyback schemes fail to remove enough weapons to show a measurable reduction in the rate of gun death and injury, he explained. This is why Australia's programs are considered so successful: as a nation, it destroyed one-third of its knownprivately held firearms by cutting and then smelting; and the risk of dying by gunshot has halved since the post-Port Arthur gun laws.
While in Argentina, Professor Alpers spoke at local UN meetings and an academic workshop in Buenos Aires. All were connected with the national Plan on Firearms Control launched by the Argentine President in August 2006 and the Gun Buy Back Law being discussed in Congress.
Contact: Jake O'Shaughnessy
Phone: 02 9351 4312