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Gun control and suicide rates.
August 29, 2010 5:08 PM   Subscribe

In the wake of the Port Arthur massacre, in 1997 Australia implemented a gun buyback program that reduced the stock of firearms by around one-fifth, and nearly halving the number of gun-owning households. Leigh and Neill (2010) find that the buyback led to a drop in the firearm suicide rates of almost 80%, or about 200 lives per annum (with no significant effect on non-firearm death rates). This translates into an annual benefit of $500M, or $800 000 per weapon destroyed. However, Baker & McPhedran (2006) have previosuly concluded that there was no impact on homicides.
posted by wilful (131 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
On the face of it those statistics make perfect sense. The gun just hanging around without a purpose is also the one that gets picked up and used by the depressed suicide. The gun owned by the hard man, with killing to do, is not going to get turned in during the buyback program.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:24 PM on August 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


The chart is interesting. It doesn't particularly seem like there was a change at the time of the buyback and that the rates had been dropping anyways.

It's too bad the new study isn't available to read.
posted by smackfu at 5:25 PM on August 29, 2010


200 suicides a year has an economic cost of $500 million? That's 2.5 million per suicide and seems a bit of a stretch considering Australia has a population of 22 million and a GDP of $1.02 trillion meaning each Australian contributes $46,363 to the economy. What am I missing?
posted by furtive at 5:26 PM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


s/cost/benefit
posted by furtive at 5:26 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Although, meatbomb, at least in NSW our crime statistics agency BOCSAR reported an overall decline in firearms crime over the ten years following the reforms. PDF of more results here; and quoting from their summary:
Our analysis also shows that the number of recorded firearm offences has been declining in NSW in recent years. Over the 11-year period examined, the number of people killed with a firearm decreased by 45 per cent and the number of robberies with a firearm decreased by 33 per cent.
I couldn't stand John Howard and I voted and campaigned against his Government but on this one he got it right.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:31 PM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


the buyback led to a drop in the firearm suicide rates of almost 80%, or about 200 lives per annum (with no significant effect on non-firearm death rates)deaths But what about suicide attempts? Other methods are more difficult and less effective.
Don't get me wrong, it that is a good thing that people are able to get help before
it's too late! But, there is still a significant cost associated with a suicide attempt. So, I don't know where they get the dollar figures for their savings. Not only that, but what about "accidental death rates". Suicides can look like accidents (car crashes, walking in front of vehicles, etc.)
posted by Librarygeek at 5:35 PM on August 29, 2010


When this was implemented, Australia never had the % of gun ownership, nor the gun culture of the USA. [CITATION NEEDED] It would be interesting to see this attempted in the USA. "Interesting" being the understatement of the year.

Y'all remember that this was such a gutsy unpopular decision that John Howard wore a bullet proof vest during at least one public appearance.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:35 PM on August 29, 2010


It's important to note that we didn't just implement a gun buyback, we banned all semi-automatic rifles and semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns. The buyback wouldn't have been anywhere near as effective if it hadn't been paired with the bannings.

But the most interesting thing for me was buried at the end of the article:
"Before the buyback Australia used to have a multiple shooting every year or two. In the 13 years since there have been none. I have calculated the probability of that happening by chance - it's extraordinarily low."
Howard's social policies made me heave but he did a very good thing here.
posted by Georgina at 5:38 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if this is the same as the new study but it is very similar and has the same graphs: PDF.

Of course, it's all statistics so I don't really know why I wanted to see it.
posted by smackfu at 5:38 PM on August 29, 2010


The Port Arthur Massacre conspiracy theory is pretty cool.

The only two police officers in the sleepy tourist town were sent on a mystery wild goose chase the same time the shit went down. Hmmmm.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:41 PM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also, from 2007, Parliament House in Canberra pulled together these resources.
It would be interesting to see this attempted in the USA
Uncanny, one of the major reforms of the National Firearms Agreement was standardising "genuine reasons" for which one could acquire a gun licence, in which "self defence" was specifically excluded. I couldn't see that one washing in the States.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:46 PM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


200 suicides a year has an economic cost of $500 million? That's 2.5 million per suicide and seems a bit of a stretch considering Australia has a population of 22 million and a GDP of $1.02 trillion meaning each Australian contributes $46,363 to the economy. What am I missing?

You're missing the fact that the suicide may have lived for more than one more year. For, say, TPD insurance you caculate the costs at least to the expected retirement age.

(Also, your simple GDP/population measure also ignores a few factors, but they're likely not as significant as that)
posted by pompomtom at 5:50 PM on August 29, 2010


200 suicides a year has an economic cost of $500 million? That's 2.5 million per suicide and seems a bit of a stretch considering Australia has a population of 22 million and a GDP of $1.02 trillion meaning each Australian contributes $46,363 to the economy. What am I missing?

Yeah. Over 50 years that's 2.3 million right there.
posted by delmoi at 5:53 PM on August 29, 2010


We find that the buyback led to a drop in the firearm suicide rates of almost 80%, with no significant effect on non-firearm death rates. The effect on firearm homicides is of similar magnitude but is less precise.

In other words, people still killed themselves and others at about the same rate as before, only not with guns. So why was "banning all semi-automatic rifles and semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns" worth it?

Before the buyback Australia used to have a multiple shooting every year or two. In the 13 years since there have been none. I have calculated the probability of that happening by chance - it's extraordinarily low.

The obvious problem with this is that "by chance" or "as a direct result of the gun bans" are far from the only two possibilities. The "extraordinary" thing here is that someone who knows how to calculate that probability wouldn't also know better than to infer this kind of conclusion from it.

I'm unimpressed. I don't doubt that banning guns reduces firearm suicides, but the idea that it's worth it from a policy standpoint just doesn't follow.

Yeah. Over 50 years that's 2.3 million right there.

Except that the 500 million claimed is an annual benefit, not a lifetime benefit. She's claiming that each of these prevented suicides are worth 2.3 million per year, every year.
posted by vorfeed at 5:57 PM on August 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was fascinated to read about this study on the news sites this morning (like this report). At first I was cynical, thinking "well, they just found other ways to commit suicide", but then I read:

Whereas the earlier study had found an increase in suicides by other methods, suggesting substitution, Dr Neill's study found no evidence of substitution within any state.

''It is simply not the case that there was an increase in non-firearm suicide deaths in states that brought* back more firearms,'' she said.

(*Although I hope she actually said bought, and it's just another example of a journo who can't spell.)

I really don't care how much money it saves. I do care that 200 Aussies EACH YEAR hopefully get through a very dark time in their lives without resorting to the final solution, and don't leave their families and friends devastated.

I wish my ex-father-in-law had waited a couple of years. Money was very important to him. He would have happily accepted cash in exchange for the weapon he eventually used on himself, and he would have been an awesome grand-dad for my kids.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:57 PM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you can pay someone $100 not to blow their heads off, that's surely money well spent.
posted by popechunk at 6:01 PM on August 29, 2010


Except that the 500 million claimed is an annual benefit, not a lifetime benefit. She's claiming that each of these prevented suicides are worth 2.3 million per year, every year.
Right, but each year a new batch of 50 people doesn't die. So even though it takes 50 years to accrue, each year a new 50 year period starts that will eventually produce 2.3 million.

That's assuming that the people who didn't kill themselves produce an average amount of 'domestic product', of course.
posted by delmoi at 6:07 PM on August 29, 2010


In other words, people still killed themselves and others at about the same rate as before, only not with guns
Vorfeed, obviously gun reform would have no effect on people attempting suicide without using guns. The point is that there hasn't been substitution, and there has been a measured decrease in suicide.
I don't doubt that banning guns reduces firearm suicides, but the idea that it's worth it from a policy standpoint just doesn't follow.
Follows for me. Must be Australian logic.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:07 PM on August 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


The Cost of Suicide. (PDF)
posted by empath at 6:09 PM on August 29, 2010


Hmmm, while I think it's good news that fewer people are killing themselves with guns, if you look at the ABS data for suicide trends from 1993 to 2003, it does not look like the overall number of suicides was significantly affected. In 1993 there were 2081 suicides, in 1997, 2720, in 2003, 2213.

In addition, the ABS notes:
In 2003 the most common method of suicide was hanging, which was used in almost half (45%) of all suicide deaths. The next most used methods were poisoning by 'other' (including motor vehicle exhaust) (19%), Other (15%), poisoning by drugs (13%), and methods using firearms (9%). This distribution was consistent with that of the previous few years. However, over the decade strong trends were apparent such as the increase in the use of hanging, and a decrease in methods using firearms.

The factors that make people want to kill themselves can't be legislated away.
posted by girlgenius at 6:14 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah. Over 50 years that's 2.3 million right there.

Thanks, I don't doubt the value of gun control as a suicide prevention tool but was having a hard time digesting the $500m number.
posted by furtive at 6:21 PM on August 29, 2010


Wait, if there was only a decline in firearm suicides but the overall rate of suicide is unchanged, then i don't see how there are any cost savings at all.
posted by empath at 6:27 PM on August 29, 2010


Girlgenius, empath, the ABS's more recent paper on Suicides, Australia (PDF) sheds a bit more light on it (see especially p9). The short story: as Leigh claims, an overall decline with a peak in 1997-1998, with a very sharp decline in firearms suicides.

(Actually the really noteworthy thing about that paper is how prominently the NT figures in the numbers. It's twice the national rate and the paper suggests a correlation between the NT's high Aboriginal population and the overall high rate of suicide in Aboriginal communities. Awful.)
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:41 PM on August 29, 2010


Wait, if there was only a decline in firearm suicides but the overall rate of suicide is unchanged, then i don't see how there are any cost savings at all.

The problem with this study is that it rests on a premise that the availability of guns is a causal factor in suicides. The fact that the rate remained relatively steady would suggest that this is not the case. Which makes sense - people decide to kill themselves and then choose a method that's easily available.

Anecdotally, I have heard a country cop say that is his view the best thing about the gun buyback was that it meant farm suicides were less messy. He said he'd much rather cut someone down or pull them out of a car than scrape them off the walls of the shed.
posted by girlgenius at 6:46 PM on August 29, 2010


Sorry Fiasco de Gama, we crossed - the updated paper does show a decline

It's worth considering what else was going on in 1997-98. It would be interesting to map unemployment and economic structure changes across the same period.
posted by girlgenius at 6:51 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


In other words, people still killed themselves and others at about the same rate as before, only not with guns

No, quite to the contrary.

Fewer gun suicides plus an unchanged number of non-gun suicides means fewer suicides overall.
posted by pompomtom at 7:12 PM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't doubt that banning guns reduces firearm suicides, but the idea that it's worth it from a policy standpoint just doesn't follow.

Follows for me. Must be Australian logic.


Guess so. It looks to me as if you guys bought the domestic-policy equivalent of a bag of magic beans: an expensive, wildly unpopular policy which had a direct negative effect on hundreds of thousands of your citizens, yet had more-or-less zero effect on anything it was meant to.

If Australians had known in 1997 that this policy would lead to no decrease in the overall homicide rate, no decrease in the overall suicide rate, and a decrease in firearm suicides which adds up to all of 200 people per year (at a cost of 500 million AUD, which might have prevented hundreds more had it actually been spent on suicide prevention), do you really think it would have passed?

I don't doubt the gun ban was well-intentioned, but there's ample evidence that it didn't do much of anything at all, and that's the very definition of "not worth it from a policy standpoint".
posted by vorfeed at 7:15 PM on August 29, 2010


Interesting indeed, girlgenius. According to Yet Another ABS Hyperlink on unemployment and underemployment there was an intersection between those two at about 1997-1998 (ie. after 1998 there fewer people entirely unemployed, and more people with much less work than they'd like). I'd speculate that there's a direct correlation between unemployment and suicide, if only because mental illness is also correlated with unemployment.

If I'm right we'll see a GFC-related spike in 2009 and 2010. Hope I'm wrong.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:25 PM on August 29, 2010


It's important to note that we didn't just implement a gun buyback, we banned all semi-automatic rifles and semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns.

Well. That sucks.
posted by bradth27 at 7:26 PM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


In other words, people still killed themselves and others at about the same rate as before, only not with guns

No, quite to the contrary.

Fewer gun suicides plus an unchanged number of non-gun suicides means fewer suicides overall.


From Fiasco de Gama's link:

The number of suicides in 1995 was 2368, and in 2005, 2101. There were 267 fewer suicides overall (a decline of 11%).

The number of firearm suicides in 1995 was 389, in 2005, 147. (a decline of 62%)
Therefore, by other methods in 1995, 1979 suicides; in 2005, 1954. (a decline of 1%)

So firearms went from being responsible for 16% of suicides in 1995 to 7% in 2005. There were fewer suicides overall, but the fact that 'other methods' changed so little perhaps suggests that some people were mode-shifting.
posted by girlgenius at 7:27 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Vorfeed, what exactly is the negative effect which gun control has had on the hundreds of thousands of Australians that you mention?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:29 PM on August 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


I don't doubt the gun ban was well-intentioned, but there's ample evidence that it didn't do much of anything at all, and that's the very definition of "not worth it from a policy standpoint

Maybe it brought peace of mind to Australians that didn't want to see another massacre of dozens of people by a man with semiautomatic rifles.

Really though, gun control is about deciding where to draw the line. I certainly can't have some sort of missile silo in my yard here in America, that is over the line. But I can have a variety of less lethal weapons like a handgun or semiautomatic rifle. Australia just drew their line differently, that's all. It might not bear out as statistically all that better, but I rather doubt you can really say what the perfect gun control ought to be with any great precision.
posted by boubelium at 7:31 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


no decrease in the overall suicide rate

Where are you getting this idea? (also whither "wildly unpopular"?)
posted by pompomtom at 7:34 PM on August 29, 2010


Vorfeed, what exactly is the negative effect which gun control has had on the hundreds of thousands of Australians that you mention?

They were either criminalized or had their property taken. And yes, I'm aware that those who turned in their guns were compensated, but that's small comfort when you're being given no choice. I'm sure many people lost collections and/or heirlooms which had great meaning to them.
posted by vorfeed at 7:34 PM on August 29, 2010


that this policy would lead to no decrease in the overall homicide rate, no decrease in the overall suicide rate
There has been a decrease in the homicide rate and a decrease in the overall suicide rate, vorfeed. See my link to the BOCSAR figures, and the ABS's Suicides: Australia.
wildly unpopular policy
As to its unpopularity; gun restriction was and remains very unpopular only with a relatively small section of the Australian electorate, mostly rural, mostly conservative, mostly older voters. In 1998 the conservative Prime Minister (Howard, as I mentioned before) stared down the internal dissent in his own Party with the wholehearted support of the opposition Labor Party and the crossbench Democrats and Greens. He won the election. Gun reform has been very electorally popular.

As it happens, the Shooters Party which has two upper house MLCs in my State has had to branch out into fishing advocacy to stay relevant.

On preview: vorfeed, there's far less of the heirloom gun culture in Australia than there is in the States. People just don't hand down guns, even in the country; they fire them, sell them, and treat them just like any other productive asset. Historical pieces like war souvenirs (including ubiquitous WWII Japanese swords) and collectors' items were also partially exempted from the buyback.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:39 PM on August 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


Semi-Automatic "family heirlooms"?! Get out of here, no one in Australia was even seriously arguing that at the time.

No doubt this makes me an ideologue, and it's a tired cliche in addition: but seriously, if you think owning semi-automatic weapons and handguns is a good thing for the population and society at large in a well-functioning democracy, you're fucking nuts. I'm sorry, but no one needs a gun that fires a round at a time, or a gun that fits in your hand. Plenty of people need not to be shot, though.
posted by smoke at 7:48 PM on August 29, 2010 [14 favorites]


Added: Collect China Plates instead - they don't kill people, and the only crimes they're associated with are ones of taste.
posted by smoke at 7:49 PM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the clarification, Vorfeed.

On preview: what Fiasco dG said.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:51 PM on August 29, 2010


It's also worth noting that suicide prevention wasn't one of the premises of the 1997 reforms; Howard's NFA was specifically around preventing mass shootings using automatic weapons. As Simon Chapman points out, someone committing suicide doesn't care if their weapon is semi-automatic or pump-action, what happens to the next round or cartridge is not their problem.

It wasn't about reducing crime, or reducing fatal domestic violence, or about reducing suicide---the fact that it's had those side effects is just gravy.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:54 PM on August 29, 2010


This reminds me of the coal-gas story in the NYT a few years ago. Short summary: removing one method of suicide can reduce the suicide rate despite the availability of other methods.
posted by theclaw at 8:03 PM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Guess so. It looks to me as if you guys bought the domestic-policy equivalent of a bag of magic beans: an expensive, wildly unpopular policy which had a direct negative effect on hundreds of thousands of your citizens, yet had more-or-less zero effect on anything it was meant to.

Direct negative affect on hundreds of thousands of citizens? That's a pretty big claim.

We just don't have a gun culture here. Really. No massive gun shows, people really don't go all military commando, hunting culture is basically non-existent (though some people do like to go pig hunting, but guns are considered insufficiently macho) and most people over here get through their whole lives without ever seeing any more gun that a sliver of the butt of a glock attached to the hip of a cop. We just don't do guns here like they do in the US.

Kindly not to be applying American gun logic here. It's a very different cultural environment.
posted by Jilder at 8:28 PM on August 29, 2010 [13 favorites]


Yeah, it will go down as Howard's great legacy. I imagine the polling about stringency of gun ownership here would be at something north of 75% approval. Youall are free to quibble about the stats, but there's no pricing in how much better it 'feels' to live in a place with fewer guns around.
posted by peacay at 8:31 PM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


wildly unpopular

The ban and buyback was not unpopular, despite how it may have been reported by vested interests in the US.
posted by markr at 8:35 PM on August 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Kindly not to be applying American gun logic here. It's a very different cultural environment.

My mistake, I guess. I still don't see that the ban on semi-autos has actually accomplished much, especially given the cost, but you're welcome to it if that's what you want.
posted by vorfeed at 8:41 PM on August 29, 2010


Those who give up essential liberties for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:43 PM on August 29, 2010


Damn. Mysteriously hit Post Comment before I'd finished writing.

Those who give up essential liberties for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. That was the gist of the pro-gun lobby when the debate was raging. Or some cool quote about a freedom relinquished having to be regained with blood. Can't remember the exact wording.

That, and the it's not wise to have an unarmed populace argument. This was in the vein of hypothetical situations like "What if the Indons invade? We can't rely on our pissant Army. How can we form a citizen militia without automatic rifles?"
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:51 PM on August 29, 2010


Those who give up essential liberties for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety
Don't make me get my comparative index of political development out, uncanny, if you keep going there it'll be six of the Government/IR 1001.

Australia didn't have a revolutionary moment and popular arms are not a public good here in the same way as the US. The 'liberty' we enjoy is a) common law, is b) the product of hundreds of years (including the early modern UK to be fair) of popular movements of emancipation and suffrage and is c) granted thanks to the sovereign power of an inbred foreign family of millionaires. We're still a monarchy, man.

As it happens I think the principle is more instructive in the Australian context if you apply it to workplace organisation and trade unionism, but that's just me.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:51 PM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, right. Fair enough.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:52 PM on August 29, 2010


Don't stress Yanks, we still live all our gun-based massacres vicariously through America, we just decided not to implement shooting crimes quite as fully as we did our television programming and predilection for throwing hamburger wrappers from the windows of speeding V8 cars.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:02 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, 200 people don't kill themselves but that's dismissed as no result at all. I guess for some people wanking off over guns is more important than what guns are supposedly for- which is keeping people alive. Seriously fucking wow.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 9:04 PM on August 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


Wow, 200 people don't kill themselves but that's dismissed as no result at all. I guess for some people wanking off over guns is more important than what guns are supposedly for- which is keeping people alive. Seriously fucking wow.

Sorry, but it's perfectly reasonable to ask whether 200 lives makes a 500 million dollar gun ban worth it; I wouldn't have brought up the amount of suicide prevention that money could have bought if this was just about "wanking off over guns".
posted by vorfeed at 9:14 PM on August 29, 2010


but it's perfectly reasonable to ask whether 200 lives makes a 500 million dollar gun ban worth it

Again with the maths confusion.

What units are we talking about here? I think 200 lives per annum is probably worth the $500M, erm, annual benefit. Oh, hang on....
posted by pompomtom at 9:22 PM on August 29, 2010


"Sorry, but it's perfectly reasonable to ask whether 200 lives makes a 500 million dollar gun ban worth it"

No it's not perfectly reasonable at all. It's horrible. You don't think 200 people are worth 500 million bucks? That's crazy talk.

Fucking bean counters.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 9:26 PM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


it's perfectly reasonable to ask whether 200 lives makes a 500 million dollar gun ban worth it
I agree, it's a good question. Costs against benefits are often (though not always) good ways of assessing public policy. Personally—and I agree with peacay that I think my views on this are very mainstream in Australia—I'm prepared to support quite an economically costly prohibition scheme which reduces the incidence of gun use but also the absolute prevalence of guns, which is not just about suicide but a much broader way of life. He's right; there's no price for that.

$500 million is Neill and Leigh's assessment of the benefits of those people who did not commit suicide, by the way, not the cost of the buyback scheme.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:32 PM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have a new theory:

It seems an individual's first math is destroyed by the mention of gun control.

As a result, mentionees who have multiple maths can go about their lives, but those with just the one are rendered innumerate.
posted by pompomtom at 9:36 PM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't care what the cost is, a ban on semi-automatic rifles and semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns is a good thing. I don't know how the average Australian could possibly justify 'needing' one. And as for 'wildly unpopular', you'll find that the vast majority of us are extremely proud of this move and what it says about our values as a country. Unless you a famer, or a member of the armed force or the police, you shouldn't have guns at all.

I was 28 years old before I saw a gun IRL, a semi-automatic of some kind carried by a French soldier on the Paris Metro. Suffice to say, I shat myself (metaphorically). What if he lost his mind and decided to shoot everyone in the carriage? Because it happens all the time.
posted by Wantok at 9:36 PM on August 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


I wouldn't have brought up the amount of suicide prevention that money could have bought if this was just about "wanking off over guns".

Okay, Vorfeed, if you're more invested in suicide prevention than guns, how much suicide prevention does five hundred million buy? Do you have even the foggiest idea? Do you know what effective suicide prevention actually is, or how it's deployed, or what the suicide prevention landscape in Australia looks like?

Because if not - and I'm assuming not, frankly - then it looks like you care more about gun ownership, and talk of suicide prevention is just a sop to prevent gun restrictions.
posted by smoke at 9:44 PM on August 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Another Australian chiming in: guns are pretty well irrelevant to most Australians other than farmers. I don't think I know anyone with a gun, except for friends in the USA. Fiasco da Gama has said everything else I would have pointed out.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:53 PM on August 29, 2010


What units are we talking about here? I think 200 lives per annum is probably worth the $500M, erm, annual benefit. Oh, hang on....

I'm speaking of the 500 million the gun ban initially cost.

I think the annual benefit claim is unrealistic, as I said earlier -- it makes some sense as a total figure, but not per year. Even if there's "a new batch of people who don't die" each year, that does not mean that you can simply ignore the 50 years it takes to accrue 2.3 million dollars of benefit.

If it's been 13 years since the ban, with 200 survivors per year, and each person gives 46,000 per year in benefit, that's (200 * 46000) + (400 * 46000) + (600 * 46000) + (800 * 46000) + (1000 * 46000) + (1200 * 46000) + (1400 * 46000) + (1600 * 46000) + (1800 * 46000) + (2000 * 46000) + (2200 * 46000) + (2400 * 46000) + (2600 * 46000), or 837,200,000 over 13 years.

That's a lot of savings, but it's nowhere even close to 500 million per year. These people would have to be contributing $350,000 per year apiece in order to make that sort of impact now... as opposed to 50 years from now.
posted by vorfeed at 9:58 PM on August 29, 2010


Vorfeed, where are you getting this massive cost of the buyback? It is my understanding there was a small tax raise to fund the buyback and this was a one time cost. Getting rid of a whole class of weapons for a one time upfront cost? That is an easy deal for the government, especially since it theoretically reaps the windfall (fewer mass shooting sprees, a subdued gun culture) and gains points with a non gun loving Australian majority.
posted by boubelium at 10:00 PM on August 29, 2010


$500 million is Neill and Leigh's assessment of the benefits of those people who did not commit suicide, by the way, not the cost of the buyback scheme.
That is the figure Wikipedia says the scheme was predicted to cost. No reference given. However, it's very difficult to find a real figure. The closest I could get was here, a SMH article on a 1996 study that the authors of the newest study wrote a critique of in 1997.

For the record, I was happy with the buyback then and I'm happy now. Farmers should be allowed guns if they can demonstrate a need for them and pass relevant checks. The ADF obviously need them for work. Cops? Most of them seem to be able to cope with it, but I'd rather see them unarmed. Security guards? WTF is that about? I know one was shot dead in Sydney recently, and another one shot someone dead shortly afterwards, so it's a sensitive topic, but it makes me really uncomfortable to see armed private security.

On preview, I see vorfeed has already said where the figure comes from. The other $500M figure? Who knows? '"Economists typically put the value of a life saved at around $2.5 million," Dr Neill said'. Her co-author Andrew Leigh: '"Even if you take the bottom level of that and take the standard estimate that economists put on the value of a statistical life - $2.5 million - then that suggests to us that the buyback paid for itself in the first two years"'. (Google cache of a PDF)
posted by GeckoDundee at 10:08 PM on August 29, 2010


Also, we need to specify that the 500 million was in Aus currency. The equivalent at the time would have been something like 397 American dollars.


The wiki article also says the buyback was expected to cost 500 m, but it doesn't give the actual coat, jut projected.
posted by boubelium at 10:08 PM on August 29, 2010


397 million American dollars that is.
posted by boubelium at 10:10 PM on August 29, 2010


I'm speaking of the 500 million the gun ban initially cost.

Cute citation. So I presume we can consider your prior claim of "wild" unpopularity of the buyback and ban refuted and abandoned?

Even if there's "a new batch of people who don't die" each year

Of course it's a new batch of people. "Even if"? Is there a cell of serial suicides I should know about?

that does not mean that you can simply ignore the 50 years it takes to accrue 2.3 million dollars of benefit.

Ordinarily, one would use NPV discounting, I suppose. It's not that hard to work it out (presuming that cost figure is solely derived from the suicide's individual future earnings, which is unlikely, but we can take it as given). Admittedly, in taking this $500M cost figure your figure has deliberately ignored any benefit from the reduction in suicides.

That said, your "(200 lives per annum) / (initial cost of gun ban)" measure makes bugger all sense. Were I PM at the time (and thus not beholden to cockies the way Howard was), and I'd offered NO compensation, would the sum now be "(200 lives per annnum) / zero"?

Seriously, you should use the maths to determine the situation. Don't just start with your second amendment and work backwards. The answers will be wrong - at the least.
posted by pompomtom at 10:14 PM on August 29, 2010


how much suicide prevention does five hundred million buy?

A recent Australian senate enquiry recommended that the Productivity commission undertake a comprehensive enquiry into the economic cost of suicide and attempted suicide, because the cost is unknown.

John Mendoza, who recently resigned as the chairman of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health, says the level of investment needed for mental health a suicide prevention is is about $1 billion per year. So I guess the answer is, $500 million is not much.

However, the second link above also notes there are some 65,000 attempted suicides each year, and quotes figures that for every death there are at least 6 deeply traumatised people.

If attempted suicide rates were the same over the period we are looking at, then 200 fewer successful suicides would also mean around 6,500 fewer attempted suicides, and 1200 fewer deeply traumatised people. Over ten years, that's almost two people a day who didn't attempt or suceed at suicide. That's 120 people each year who didn't have to phone their boss one morning and explain why they weren't coming to work. All that starts to make $500 million in gun control look like a pretty good investment.

And of course, if we're looking at this in purely economic terms, we need to ask, how much value did all those semi-automatic rifles add to the economy?

(on preview, borbelium is correct
The Commonwealth funded the The Gun Buy-Back Scheme scheme through a one-off 0.2 per cent increase in the Medicare levy to raise about $500 million. The total cost of compensation to owners was about $304 million. The total cost of compensation payments to firearms dealers for loss of business will not be certain until all claims have been processed. However, by the end of the scheme, a total of 480 claims had been submitted. About $57 million was also paid to the States and Territories to cover the costs of establishing, promoting and operating the scheme. About $4 millionwas allocated to the national public education campaign)
posted by girlgenius at 10:17 PM on August 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


(of course, for the record, I believe that a $500M instantaneous cost is probably reasonable for 200 lives per annum - and, basically, I don't even like people)
posted by pompomtom at 10:17 PM on August 29, 2010


It is my understanding there was a small tax raise to fund the buyback and this was a one time cost.

Yes, it was a 0.2% medicare levy for one year, to raise the estimated total cost of around 500 million. It looks like 304 million was given to gun owners, plus 57 million for administrative costs, 4 million for advertising, and an unknown amount to "compensate firearms dealers for loss of business". Seems reasonable to assume that it was at least 400 million -- anyone know how much the final total came to?
posted by vorfeed at 10:20 PM on August 29, 2010



We just don't have a gun culture here

What!!?!
I am fully in favour of Australia's gun control laws, but to suggest we don't have a very significant gun culture is way off the mark.
From memory there are still circa 800,000 licensed gun owners. As a kid in the 80s I was one of them for my air rifle. As a youngster I went rabbit shooting with my uncle on his farm. As a teen I went hunting foxes and 'roos on friends properties and as an adult I've shot a kangaroo on a friends farm. And I grew up on a suburban quarter acre block 20mins from the Sydney CBD.
My cousins in north Queensland all hunt, and raise their kids to do so. (although admittedly, my kids have never held a gun).
There are a couple of local shooting magazines at the newsagent, plus dozens of US ones. And there is a fringe who would like to be more heavily armed (see here, for example)
The point of all this anecdata is to suggest there is a still thriving gun culture, although without the extremes of the USA.
If Americans wanted to change their laws to make gun ownership more difficult and require a reason, to restrict firearms designed for killing humans, and to make law enforcement's job easier (he has a gun in a public place - must be a bad guy) they could.
Admittedly, the gun owning populace in the USA is higher than it ever was in Australia, but still more than half of Americans don't own guns, so tighter gun laws are at least potentially achievable.
posted by bystander at 10:23 PM on August 29, 2010


That said, your "(200 lives per annum) / (initial cost of gun ban)" measure makes bugger all sense. Were I PM at the time (and thus not beholden to cockies the way Howard was), and I'd offered NO compensation, would the sum now be "(200 lives per annnum) / zero"?

You're confusing the 500M estimated cost of the gun ban with the 500M claimed benefit, per year, from these non-suicides. My math in this post has nothing to do with the former, and everything to do with the latter.
posted by vorfeed at 10:30 PM on August 29, 2010


As per usual, any discussion about gun control (or number-of-guns-in-hands-lessening, however you wish to word it) gets a certain percentage of the populace all huffy-puffy. They start demanding figures and facts and start making claims about the innumerable other ways people can kill themselves and each other.

What many people outside of that argument (including myself) end up thinking is : "Seriously, why do you NEED all those guns?"

The reasons I've heard amount to :

- we might need a citizen's militia, in case the government gets uppity
- I like to hunt things
- These guns are historically important and/or are family heirlooms
- I want to defend my home, pro-actively, instead of waiting until everyone's dead and the cops finally arrive

Argument #3 makes the most sense - even if our law enforcement were well-funded and "perfect", there's no reasonable way to filter out and respond in a timely enough way for no deaths to ever occur when someone enters a home/school/building with the intent and firepower to mow people down en masse.

The other arguments are just silly.

If the gov't gets uppity, we're all fucked regardless and your cache of weaponry isn't gonna help diddly-shit. You can't take an army out. You'd have to be on the run your entire life, and good luck getting out of the country. Furthermore, I fail to see a scenario wherein the gov't would need to come at you from gunpoint and your having guns would be a net gain.

Hunting is a sport. It's a recreational activity. Sure, you CAN hunt for all your own food if you want - but you don't NEED to. And, I sincerely doubt more than 10% of any given family's food supply for an entire year comes from things that NEEDED to be shot and killed by the hunter(s) of the household. I have plenty of hunters and gun-lovers in my family, and I know for a fact they don't shoot enough food to keep themselves fed for more than a few weeks, at best.

If family heirlooms and historical importance were of utmost importance - would you support a law that allowed you to keep those things, provided their ability to actual fire live ammunition was taken away? I doubt it. Yet, their personal value to YOU would be the same if your reasons were as you stated.

So, coming full-circle - if your reason for owning a gun is for protection of your home, you absolutely do not NEED fully or even semi-automatic weaponry. And, if there were suddenly far fewer guns in the world, you'd be in much less danger of someone coming into your home armed with a gun.

The fact is - the easier it is to kill large amounts of people, the more you will find lunatics using said methods to kill large amounts of people. That's irrefutable. Hypothetically, if the only way of killing someone were with your bare hands - there'd be no massive wars, no mass murders, etc. Realistically - if the Columbine kids were unable to secure the firepower they were able to, as easily as they were able, there wouldn't have been as many deaths (or, perhaps none at all). And so it is with any mass shooting sprees.

Sometimes, it can sound as though the people who love guns want their favorite hobby to supersede any possible benefit. That's where I get confused and upset, but I welcome any education to the contrary.

Australia was hoping to lessen the number of such occurrences and they succeeded. I'm aghast that anyone could consider that a bad thing.
posted by revmitcz at 10:31 PM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Um vorfeed, a person's income is worth much more as a part of the economy. $1 gives earned gives greater GDP benefit when it is spent. So any calculations require factoring in a multiplier (as to what benefit level this is, I'll leave that to economists to argue)
posted by peacay at 10:38 PM on August 29, 2010


Actually revmitcz, I disagree with two big parts of your analysis. (And you got all your numbering mixed up.)

"Defending your home" is a very poor argument, it has been shown in the US many times to be complete nonsense. People have their own guns turned against them, and fatal gun-related domestic violence rates are far higher. I'd get the cites for that but I don't have time just right now. And part of civilisation is that we provide for an independent, external justice framework.

Meanwhile, you haven't demolished the hunting argument at all. Many farmers consider vermin removal to be an essential land management practice.

Also, humane destruction of stock - what's a quicker, cleaner way of killing a distressed animal than shooting it?
posted by wilful at 10:42 PM on August 29, 2010


You're confusing the 500M estimated cost of the gun ban with the 500M claimed benefit, per year, from these non-suicides.

I most certainly am not.

I gave the benefit of the doubt, to presume that your cost/benefit calculation had a cost and a benefit.

To use the 500M/pa benefit figure makes even less sense. How can you possibly give us a cost/benefit figure when you're comparing benefits (500M claimed benefit - which, incidentally, you dispute) with benefit (200 fewer suicides).

That said, I really don't mind which ratio you're wrong on.

My math...

Too few maths.
posted by pompomtom at 10:44 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Following on from revmitcz's comment, here are the terms of the National Firearms Agreement, of which the gun buyback formed one part.

The terms of the Agreement included:

- banning military style automatic and semi-automatic firearms
- limiting the availability of non-military style semi-automatic rifles and shotguns to primary producers, professional vermin exterminators, and a limited class of clay target firearm users
- introducing registration for all firearms, including long arms
- grouping firearms into 5 broad licensing categories
- requiring all licence applicants to establish a genuine reason for firearms ownership
- requiring all licence applicants other than those applying for category A firearms to establish that they have a special need for the particular category of firearm
- requiring that permits be acquired for every new firearm purchase, with the issue of a permit to be subject to a waiting period of at least 28 days to enable appropriate checks to be made
- stricter storage requirements for all firearms
- requiring all sales to be conducted by or through licensed firearms dealers.

So if you really really want to get a gun other than a military-style automatic one, you can still get it. But you need to show that you have a genuine reason for needing to own such a gun.
posted by girlgenius at 10:48 PM on August 29, 2010


Also, humane destruction of stock - what's a quicker, cleaner way of killing a distressed animal than shooting it?
Indeed, wilful. My cousins in central west NSW keep a small arsenal of break-action shotguns (410 and 12 gauge) and .22 bolt-action rifles for just this purpose, for snakes in the dog kennels, and for keeping feral dogs and cats down. They were going to teach me to shoot the last time I was up there, but they had to go to school instead. They treat their guns like the ag bikes and power tools and generators and other machinery on the property though—lots of oil and maintenance, very strict lock and key, no sentimentality.

It's wrong to say Australia doesn't have a gun culture; we do, at least outside the city: it's just that it's very very different to that of the US. It's true to say we have no urban gun culture.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:02 PM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's wrong to say Australia doesn't have a gun culture; we do, at least outside the city: it's just that it's very very different to that of the US.

Indeed, as your example shows, we have a culture of guns as useful tools, rather than votive objects of contitutional fetishization.
posted by girlgenius at 11:09 PM on August 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


Just for the record, I'll be applying for a Category A/B firearms licence in a little while, not being a Prohibited Person. My fingerprints will be taken, but I wont be required to undergo any psychological evaluation. The firearm will be required to be securely stored.
posted by wilful at 11:15 PM on August 29, 2010


Um vorfeed, a person's income is worth much more as a part of the economy. $1 gives earned gives greater GDP benefit when it is spent. So any calculations require factoring in a multiplier (as to what benefit level this is, I'll leave that to economists to argue)

Yes, but each person cannot somehow be "worth" 2.5 million dollars per year, no matter what the multiplier is. Australia has 22 million people -- 2.5 million times 22 million is 5.5 × 10^13, which is close to the world GDP. Even if you assume that fully half the population isn't worth anything, you still come out with a number that's much, much too big (2.75 × 10^13, whereas Australia's GDP is about 1 trillion, or 1 x 10^12).

The benefit being claimed here is so large that Australia would have to have just 400,000 people in it, if the 500 million dollar "annual benefit" of every 200 people who fail to kill themselves had to actually come out of the GDP.

Now, maybe that number doesn't scale -- maybe it's based on something other than individual lives -- but that seems pretty odd given the subject.
posted by vorfeed at 11:19 PM on August 29, 2010


Yes, but each person cannot somehow be "worth" 2.5 million dollars per year, no matter what the multiplier is.

So, let's value each Australian as worth a pot of Carlton (certainly an over-estimate in many cases), or about AUD$3.7 in the CBD.

So, 3.7*200=740. Far short of $500M.

740 is still a positive number. So you're still doing a benefit/benefit analysis... which are generally of the simpler kind.
posted by pompomtom at 11:41 PM on August 29, 2010


So you're still doing a benefit/benefit analysis... which are generally of the simpler kind.

I'm not saying there's no benefit here, or even that the benefit is necessarily small. I'm simply saying that the amount of benefit being claimed in the FPP seems very unreasonable. That's obviously on-topic... and is a better example of "using the maths to determine the situation" than anything you've provided so far.

As far as I can tell, you're mostly relying on Math 101.3: You Don't Support Gun Control, So Your Math Must Be Wrong Somehow.
posted by vorfeed at 12:04 AM on August 30, 2010


It's interesting how many pro-gun Americans react with disbelief to the fact that other countries don't have emotional reactions to gun ownership.

"What? There was no mass uprising and protests? You treat your guns like ... like .. shovels?"
posted by benzenedream at 12:47 AM on August 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


The "British coal gas story" referenced above actually blew my mind a little bit.

Here in Norway tightening of gun ownership the last few decades have mainly concentrated on removing old stocks of unregistered guns and illegal weapons, including things like Sten guns stored in some attic since the war. Being a fairly rural society, we still have a lot of guns for sports, hunting and pest control, but buying a gun for self defence is a no-no. Storage requirements are also a lot stricter now. Interestingly, suicides by firearms have declined markedly. The homocide rate here is 1/5th of the US one, despite having comparable levels of firearms ownership.
posted by Harald74 at 12:48 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Before I'm off to bed: to be fair, I think what was probably meant by that figure is obvious. 200 people survive per year, creating another 500M in projected lifetime economic benefit. But that's not the same as "an economic boost per year of $500 million" or "an annual benefit of $500M", because you're not getting anywhere close to that much of a boost or benefit per year. You're getting it over an entire lifetime, which means that the system won't see nearly that much of a yearly benefit until decades down the line. Assuming the change in suicide rate holds, of course... which is a gutsy assumption to make on just 13 years' worth of data, given that the rate seems to be rather variable over the course of 20 years or so.
posted by vorfeed at 12:50 AM on August 30, 2010


I'm simply saying that the amount of benefit being claimed in the FPP seems very unreasonable.

200 lives per year is unreasonable? What's the cost you're using for your cost/benefit calculation? The arbitrary, legislated, $500M or the abrogation of gawd given constitutional rights that never existed here?
posted by pompomtom at 12:53 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's interesting how many pro-gun Americans react with disbelief to the fact that other countries don't have emotional reactions to gun ownership.

"What? There was no mass uprising and protests? You treat your guns like ... like .. shovels?"


I find this especially interesting regarding Australia, which has got a kind of frontier past similar to the US. Here in long-ago-settled Europe I get the different historical outlook.
posted by Harald74 at 12:53 AM on August 30, 2010


vorfeed I dont know why you are getting confused by this rough estimate.

They are basing the 2.5 million on the expected lifetime earnings of each dead person.

So each dead person is not worth 2.5 million dollars per year every year.

Each dead person is worth 2.5 million all at once (sort of like life insurance, think of all those 9/11 widows collecting the big checks all at once).

There are NOT 200 dead people in total. There 200 new dead people every year (prevented)

Its not the same dead person costing 2.5 million every year.
posted by Iax at 12:58 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just want to clear up some misinformation here. Howard's gun reforms did not ban or 'outlaw' semi-automatic weapons or pump-action shotguns. It instituted a national system of re-classification that restricts their ownership to those who can demonstrate a justifiable need for them. If you're a professional shooter or a primary producer in a vermin-prone area, you can apply for the relevant licence and own one.

For comparison:
Category A - airgun, non-automatic rimfire rifles, shotguns other than pump-action and semi-auto
Category B - centrefire rifles other than semi-automatic
Category C - semi-auto rimfires with magazine capacity <1> the Cat C restriction.

Category C licences are available to, amongst others, primary producers and professional shooters. Category D licences are available to professional shooters.

Naturally, fairly stringent evidentiary requirements need to be met before a C or D licence will be granted. Americans might not understand how this is not seen as a gross invasion of our civil rights, but you know, the system actually works incredible well. Hunters still hunt, sporting clay shooters still shoot sporting clays.

I write this as both a Category A and B shooter, and also as a lawyer who, from time to time, deals in breaches of the Firearms Act.
posted by tim_in_oz at 12:58 AM on August 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


Actually revmitcz, I disagree with two big parts of your analysis. (And you got all your numbering mixed up.)

Yeah, I added one later and forgot to update the comment to reflect it. Good catch.

"Defending your home" is a very poor argument, it has been shown in the US many times to be complete nonsense. People have their own guns turned against them, and fatal gun-related domestic violence rates are far higher.

I've certainly seen that as well, and I didn't intend argue the statistics of any reports. A cursory Google search puts it at 4.2 times more likely that someone carrying a gun gets shot and killed. Certainly a valid point, but one I intentionally left out because on the surface, the idea of someone wanting a gun for self-defense makes more sense than most other arguments I've heard.

Meanwhile, you haven't demolished the hunting argument at all. Many farmers consider vermin removal to be an essential land management practice.

Also, humane destruction of stock - what's a quicker, cleaner way of killing a distressed animal than shooting it?


You're right, I hadn't considered either of those points. They lend more credence to the defense of why someone might require a firearm (which, for the record, I'm not against) but do nothing to defend the guns that are often the target of these laws : fully-automatic, semi-automatic, military-grade sniper rifles, pump-action shotguns, etc.

I think we're arguing the same points, just to slightly different levels (and, admittedly, my numbering didn't help much).
posted by revmitcz at 1:30 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Indeed, as your example shows, we have a culture of guns as useful tools, rather than votive objects of contitutional fetishization.

I think this is right. We do have a gun culture in Australia. Like we have an emo culture, and a lawn bowling culture, and a macramé wall-hanging culture, and a drink-fancy-coffee-in-a-funky-little-alleyway culture. There are people out there with guns, who like to go shoot pigs and 'roos with them. You can usually spot them by the colourful stickers on their utes. What we don't really have in Australia are cowards who are so scared of their fellow citizens that they can't sleep at night without a handgun under their pillow, or fascists who maintain fantasies of rising up against the government with their Glocks.

The buyback remains Howard's finest moment.
posted by Jimbob at 1:45 AM on August 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


They are basing the 2.5 million on the expected lifetime earnings of each dead person.

So each dead person is not worth 2.5 million dollars per year every year.

Each dead person is worth 2.5 million all at once (sort of like life insurance, think of all those 9/11 widows collecting the big checks all at once).


Yes, I understand that this is the idea... but they're not worth 2.5 million all at once, not in the real world. There is no big life insurance check, here; these people are still alive, and are still worth however much they're individually worth per year. You can say that one of them is worth 2.5 million dollars over a lifetime, but it's misleading to say that their survival therefore caused "a 2.5 million dollar economic boost per year", because that's simply not true -- not even if there's another one coming every year. There wasn't a year in which any given person boosted the economy by 2.5 million dollars, and there wasn't a year in which any given group of 200 boosted it by 500M. Each of them are boosting the economy by more like $50,000 per year individually, or 10 million per year as a group of 200.

Even if each new group of 200 has a collective impact over a lifetime which comes out to 500 million, it's totally misleading to claim that they're making that impact per year. They're not. They're making it over a lifetime. It would have been easy enough to say "applying an accepted financial value to the human lives saved per year results in an economic boost of $500 million over their lifetimes" -- guess that's science journalism for you.

In short: if the lottery commission told you that you and the 199 friends in your ticket-buying group had hit the jackpot of "an annual benefit of 500M", would you just accept it as the same thing if you each ended up with 2.5 million over a lifetime (50,000 per year) instead of 2.5 million a year, because hey, there's a new lottery winner every year? Of course not, because it's not the same thing... and it's not the same in a really, really big way.
posted by vorfeed at 1:49 AM on August 30, 2010


There wasn't a year in which any given person boosted the economy by 2.5 million dollars, and there wasn't a year in which any given group of 200 boosted it by 500M. Each of them are boosting the economy by more like $50,000 per year individually, or 10 million per year as a group of 200.

Are you taking into account the idea that this $50k per person, per year is how much that person is personally making, not what they're contributing? For instance, someone making $50k/year is likely spending close to $40k/year between their various expenses and just plain ol' shopping. However, their benefit to their local (and sometimes global) economy is far more than that. Your company doesn't pay you anywhere near what you're worth to them. If you make $50k/year, it's not inconceivable that your position helps the company to rake in $200k or more annually.

To put it another way : Microsoft makes $62 billion in revenue, while Steve Ballmer gets $665k/year. Larry Ellison's total compensation over the last decade as Oracle's CEO was $1.84 billion while Oracle's revenue is $26 billion annually.

I don't really know why you're harping on the dollar value of a human life this much, but I think you're still focusing on the wrong numbers to make your argument. To be fair, I don't know what the right numbers are - but I also don't think it matters.
posted by revmitcz at 2:44 AM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Seconding revmitcz,in addition to your ignorance about Australian culture, gun laws, and suicide prevention, it's pretty unedifying watching you trying find a dollar value on a human life for the sake of a fucking gun, dude.
posted by smoke at 3:22 AM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm looking for an affordable single-stack pistol suitable for concealed carry, preferably in .40 S&W...I've got small hands, and I find the wide double-stack grip on Glocks and the like uncomfortable.

Bwahaaaha.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:41 AM on August 30, 2010


Dr Andrew Leigh, one of the authors of the paper, is also my local MP. I dropped him an email this evening to let him know this discussion was going on and to ask for clarification on the cost calculations. He was kind enough to reply almost straight away with this link to the working paper version:

http://people.anu.edu.au/andrew.leigh/pdf/GunBuyback_Panel.pdf

He also noted "There are links in the paper to our particular source on the value of a statistical life, but a Google search for ‘value statistical life australia’ will bring up the relevant literature."

If you go to page 34 of the working paper, you will see that $2.5 million is the estimated value of a statistical life in Australia (Abelson, Peter. 2003. “The value of life and health for public policy.” Economic Record. 79:S2-S13).

The full working paper is well worth a read, and covers many of the questions raised in this thread. And if Andrew Leigh is reading, I would like to thank him for his prompt response and put on record that I am stoked to have him as my MP.
posted by girlgenius at 3:46 AM on August 30, 2010 [18 favorites]


Awesome work girlgenius! And I'm quite jealous you get him for an MP.
posted by smoke at 3:48 AM on August 30, 2010


girlgenius eponysterical!
posted by wilful at 3:55 AM on August 30, 2010


I think we're arguing the same points, just to slightly different levels (and, admittedly, my numbering didn't help much).

Agreed. I think fetishisation of weapons that are strictly designed to kill people is quite sickening. But, as the son of a farmer, and having spent a lot of time around guns, they don't frighten me (or excite me).
posted by wilful at 3:58 AM on August 30, 2010


girlgenius eponysterical!
I can haz e-pony now?
posted by girlgenius at 3:59 AM on August 30, 2010


That's amazing, girlgenius. I'm stoked to have him as an MP just as an Australian.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:05 AM on August 30, 2010


200 suicides a year has an economic cost of $500 million? That's 2.5 million per suicide and seems a bit of a stretch considering Australia has a population of 22 million and a GDP of $1.02 trillion meaning each Australian contributes $46,363 to the economy. What am I missing?

Valuing people at their dollar contribution to GDP, with no reference to their importance to other people, is the kind of Randian Libertarian nonsense that shows this conversation is being conducted from two states of being, one of which is childish and reactionary.
posted by compound eye at 4:35 AM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is as good a place as any to link to a game/art project about shootin' god's creaturs and dreaming of killing yourself: Norrland

Totally NSFW and redneck-unsafe. But worth a play.
posted by anthill at 5:07 AM on August 30, 2010


Oh for goodness sake. If you're going to have public health systems, or state-funded accident prevention policies, or drug policies, or anything else that we think a modern Government should provide, then you HAVE to start making hard judgements about what you spend your Government cash on. And that means making some kind of assumption about how much a life is worth. It's harsh, it's cruel, it's good Government. So querying the figures given in support of a policy is not unreasonable.

Have you all turned into mad right-wingers? Is it because the subject is gun control? You wouldn't act like this if I came into an Obama healthcare thread and said "Government regulation on health care spending is just WRONG because you can't put a value on a God-given life!", would you?

vorfeed looks pretty clearly pro-gun. But his criticisms of the original claims made in one of the pro-regulation posts are perfectly reasonable.
posted by alasdair at 5:28 AM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm sure many people lost collections and/or heirlooms which had great meaning to them.

Since semiautomatic rifles weren't common until World War 2, the idea that they could be reasonably called "heirlooms" approaches being silly on its face.

do nothing to defend the guns that are often the target of these laws : fully-automatic, semi-automatic, military-grade sniper rifles, pump-action shotguns, etc.

A "military-grade sniper rifle" is pretty much just a deer rifle. In the case of the USMC (and US Army until this year), it actually is a bolt-action deer rifle.

Yes, I understand that this is the idea... but they're not worth 2.5 million all at once, not in the real world.

You seem to be confused about the concept of present value, but it's a radically uncontroversial idea. The essential idea is that it would take an initial investment of 2.5M now to earn out the stream of contributions to the economy over time.

The homocide rate [in Norway] is 1/5th of the US one, despite having comparable levels of firearms ownership.

Yeah, there's something to the idea that the horrible US murder rates are not just because there are guns here; something else has gone horribly wrong with American society.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:44 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I still remember listening to Howard on Radio National, around the time of the 2007 election, talking about the most embarrassing moment of his PMship. Apparently he was in the States, around at Bush Sr's family home for some kind of dinner thing, when someone asked him what political achievement he was most proud of. Without thinking, he said "gun control". Instant social death.

Almost made me like the guy.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:55 AM on August 30, 2010 [9 favorites]


Ah, here's the transcript (see the end) and it looks like my memory of a brief radio segment in 2008 was not entirely perfect but still on the right general track. What is it with US presidents and their "libraries"? Is that some kind of euphemism?
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:35 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


A "military-grade sniper rifle" is pretty much just a deer rifle. In the case of the USMC (and US Army until this year), it actually is a bolt-action deer rifle.

I recently went to a gun range with my son's boy scout troop, and the brother of one of the leaders, an ex-marine, had purchased a Barret .50 caliber rifle (not fully set up as a sniper rife) with his hazardous duty pay.

Before I continue, let me say that a fourteen-year-old with a .38 revolver is kind of terrifying, even when pointed down range. That much killing potential in such a small package gives me the heebie jeebies, and I like guns, hopefully without fetishizing or worshipping them.

Ok, so back to the Barrett .50 caliber rifle. That thing is huge. We were all going to get a chance to shoot it. I wore foam ear plugs and external ear muffs, and it didn't fully block the sound of that gun being fired. In fact, you could feel the blowback from ten feet away, and feel it down in your stomach. I could have shot it, but frankly the gun scared me. On the other hand, watching incendiary rounds get fired into a welded-shut propane tank filled with water was pretty awesome.

Anyway, I was under the impression that the Barrett was the military's sniper rifle, and if that is the case then it is no more like a deer rifle than an Abram's tank is like a skateboard. There is probably some other sniper rifle you are referring to and I've got this all wrong; I just wanted an excuse to talk about the Barret.
-----------------

Other thoughts:

1. Did other shooting crime, besides suicides, decrease because of the ban? It seems like there would be solid data to support this one way or the other

2. Someone wrote about the Australian gun culture, and shooting a kangaroo. I just wanted to point out that Kangaroo culture is different in the U.S., and while in Australia they are probably annoying sources of meat, in the U.S. they have been cute-ified and anthropomorphized to the point that I actually cringed when I read that you *shot* one. It felt like you had shot the family dog, a dog that could speak. Yes, I know that is irrational.

3. My views on the whole issue are kind of complicated, because I am a liberal democrat who, until fairly recently, thought Chomsky would make a great president. I also live in Utah in probably the reddest county in the United States, and I grew up shooting guns with family and extended family, and really enjoyed it.

4. Someone wrote: " What we don't really have in Australia are cowards who are so scared of their fellow citizens that they can't sleep at night without a handgun under their pillow, or fascists who maintain fantasies of rising up against the government with their Glocks."

I hear so many of those anti-government fantasies that it scares me. Like the earlier posters, I believe that guns would do little good against aerial drones, and that IEDs would probably be more effective in that scenario.

I would argue that there are probably a few neighborhoods in the U.S. where sleeping with a pistol next to your bed might not be a bad idea, but that the majority of americans probably don't really need a handgun. Just north of where I live, some neighborhood watch commando (in a high-crime area) shot a neighbor by mistake, paralyzing him. If he hadn't been holding a gun maybe he would have just called the police instead.

Trying to keep guns out of the hands of people that are stupid, careless and/or mentally ill sounds like a great idea, albeit an elitist one, but any one of us can *become* careless or go apesh*t--our psyches are a moving target (no pun intended).

5. Heirloom argument: I have a rifle that belonged to the son of a great-grandfather whose job it was to harass and delay Johnson's Army when they "invaded" Utah. I'd hate to have that taken away even though I'll probably never shoot it. (we have no bullets in the house)

6. This is going to sound like a technocratic solution to a social problem, but why can't we make non-lethal weapons available to the average resident who might need them? I'm guessing that a semi-automatic shotgun with beanbag rounds would do a *great* job of stopping intruders, without presenting all of the problems associated with having, say, a .38 revolver, that tiny little package of metal death.

6b. There are measurable differences in suicide rates in the Mountain West, and they are probably attributable to the high incidence of gun ownership and social isolation, combined with a culture of drinking. Sorry, no reference. My best friend changed medications during a bout of depression. He killed himself with a .410 shotgun when he was 27, a gun I remember him getting for his birthday (when he was 15 or so). His dad thought it was "safer" because the shot didn't travel that far. I didn't go to the funeral because I was living 800 miles away and in school, but really I was angry at him and his parents and it hurt too much.

7. To Norwegian Mefians: Sten guns are so cool. I would love to own one of those, even if I never shot it. If you have one in your attic and are visiting Utah [another word that makes most Metafians recoil in horror], give me a call.

8. The average 13-year-old has an encylopedic knowledge of rifles and weaponry, thanks to Modern Warfare 2. Infinity Ward should get royalties from the army.

9. I satisfy my gun fetishization needs by playing airsoft. I am 44 years old, and I go out with my oldest son. I know that many of you are recoiling in embarrassed horror upon reading this. We spend a lot of time running around and hiding behind trees or abandoned buildings, and talking. All I can say in my limited defense is that you wouldn't believe how much fun it is, and that I have learned some things about sneaking up on people and shooting them that I sort of wish I didn't know. I also have a propane-powered airsoft pistol, and shooting it in the backyard while grilling food fulfills my Hunter S. Thompson fantasies without endangering anyone. In fact, one Japanese competition shooter trains with an airsoft pistol in Tokyo and then borrows a "real" handgun when he competes in the U.S.

10. I kind of hate the NRA, and the ways they destroy reputations in order to propagate their own institutional existence, and I think we have too many handguns and assault rifles floating around the U.S., but at the same time guns are loads of fun, and I think they can be loads of fun without lapsing into some kind of perverse fetishization. I guess I just wanted to try and describe my felt sense of those internal conflicts. Are there any other liberal gun owners out there?

This whole discussion makes me hungry for objective data, but this discussion also makes me wonder whether an objective analysis can even happen.
posted by craniac at 7:10 AM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was under the impression that the Barrett was the military's sniper rifle

No, the standard sniper rifle in the USMC is the M40 and the standard sniper rifle in the Army was until this year the M24, both modifications/militarizations of the bolt-action Remington 700 hunting rifle. The Army switched to a semiauto this year but it still using the M24. No, I did not know this stuff offhand; I remembered vaguely that the military uses deer rifles for sniping.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:25 AM on August 30, 2010


I have a rifle that belonged to the son of a great-grandfather whose job it was to harass and delay Johnson's Army when they "invaded" Utah.

It's safe to say that it would not have fallen under a semiauto weapons ban. Either that or it's an amazing one-off that needs to be in a museum.

This is going to sound like a technocratic solution to a social problem, but why can't we make non-lethal weapons available to the average resident who might need them?

Nonlethal weapons don't exist. People die from "nonlethal" weapons all the time. Even if you had a SFnal stun gun that never killed anyone, it would still be lethal in that any weapon that incapacitates or stuns puts the victim in a position where they can be easily killed, raped, robbed, or whatever.

The idea of restricting things on the basis of "need" makes me itch. Hardly anybody really needs most things, even dangerous items like cars.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:35 AM on August 30, 2010


Except that the 500 million claimed is an annual benefit, not a lifetime benefit. She's claiming that each of these prevented suicides are worth 2.3 million per year, every year.

I wonder if they're including incidental costs in those figures; hospital stays, emergency services, how a suicide effects more than just the person who died including first responders, &c?
posted by squeak at 7:49 AM on August 30, 2010


The Australian Institute of Criminology has some graphs that may be of interest. Summary: number of homicide victims is down, number of homicide incidents is down (though with a weird bump in 2002), and the percentage of homicides involving a gun, which was already trending downwards, continues to fall.

The graphs are almost too simplistic, but doing a squinty-eye guesstimating thing it looks as though the number of homocides dropped from around 320 a year in 1997 to 253 in 2007. That's a 20% drop in a decade. Tomorrow I'll try to find the raw data and do some more accurate calculations unless somebody beats me to it.

Earlier in the thread it was stated that the gun buyback had no affect on homocide rates. Where are people getting the stats for that from?
posted by Georgina at 8:28 AM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Craniac asked: Did other shooting crime, besides suicides, decrease because of the ban?

What do you mean by shooting crime? My understanding is that in the USA violent crimes typically involve some sort of gun. In Australia, they don't. Guns are conspicuous and smart criminals avoid them. It's like Al Capone and taxes: criminals generally can't get gun licenses, and if they have an unlicensed gun it gives the police an excuse to arrest them. That's not to say that there aren't crimes involving guns - there are - but they're newsworthy at least partly because guns are involved.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:08 AM on August 30, 2010



Still don't understand what is wrong with committing suicide if it is done in a manner that takes into consideration the safety of others.
posted by notreally at 9:34 AM on August 30, 2010


Nobody number-crunching above seems to have noted that Australia's population has grown by 20% since the ban (from an estimated 18,600,000 in 1997 to 22,440,000 today). That makes any drop in absolute numbers of suicides or homicides even more significant in overall terms.

Chalk me up as another Australian who thinks the ban was one of the few good things that Howard ever did. And I learnt to shoot on an heirloom air-rifle which has been destroyed as a result, but so what? (Not that air-rifles were ever going to cause the next Port Arthur, but the paperwork to keep it was no longer worth the hassle for my dad.)
posted by rory at 9:39 AM on August 30, 2010


Recalculating Georgina's 20% drop in homicides, the population growth of 14% from 1997-2007 actually makes it a 30% drop relative to the overall population (i.e. the figure of 253 in 2007 is equivalent to 222 in 1997 terms, which is 69.4% of the 320 recorded in 1997).
posted by rory at 9:47 AM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Still don't understand what is wrong with committing suicide if it is done in a manner that takes into consideration the safety of others.

Most suicide is caused by untreated depression. It's not that life is so miserable that it should be ended, it's that some illness is telling the depressed person that this is the case. Having access to guns make it easy to make a spontaneous decision about ending it; without access to guns, or with a waiting period, depressed people will often come out of their depression enough to decide, at least for the time being, to continue to live. In essence, access to guns turns depression into a fatal illness.

I don't judge anybody for wanting to end their lives, but I'd rather it be their choice, rather than a misfire of brain chemicals and the availability of a gun that made the choice for them.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:16 AM on August 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


If you go to page 34 of the working paper, you will see that $2.5 million is the estimated value of a statistical life in Australia (Abelson, Peter. 2003. “The value of life and health for public policy.” Economic Record. 79:S2-S13).

OK, here it is:

The leading estimate of the value of a statistical life in Australia (Abelson 2003) is A$2.5 million.27 If we assume that there was no offsetting increase in non-firearm deaths, the economic value of the gun buyback was A$500 million per year, or more than A$800,000 per firearm bought back. This estimate is very sensitive to the assumptions, however, and in particular the assumption of no method substitution. The calculation also fails to account for any costs of more stringent firearms legislation.

The value of a statistical life is based on "an ex-ante measure of the amount that individuals are willing to pay for various perceived gains". That comes from Abelson's paper, Establishing a Monetary Value for Lives Saved: Issues and Controversies. So it's not an economic "boost" or "benefit" -- it's the amount society might have been willing to pay in order to save these people's lives.

The original paper makes this distinction (by stating "economic value"), but the reporting on it does not. And it's a big distinction.

As for what a horrible person I am for actually looking at the math, alasdair called it: if this were any other issue, I wouldn't be the only one wondering over that figure. For people who don't "fetishize" guns, some of you sure seem to act as if the topic is too sacred for discussion.
posted by vorfeed at 10:46 AM on August 30, 2010


I would love to store my gun at the range and not have to have it in my house or carry it on the subway with tons of paperwork. It would make so much more sense and help hunters/competitive shooters if range storage were legal in NYC. But it's not. And so I never bought a gun and switched to bowhunting.
posted by melissam at 12:06 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


People referenced it earlier but a lot of folks seem to be ignoring the chart showing both firearm and non-firearm suicides post 1968. If you didn't look at it, do so now.

If you can look at that chart and come to any conclusion other than this gun buyback program had basically no effect on suicide rates then you've got ideological blinkers on. The number of firearm related suicides was dropping before the program and the rate of decline stayed essentially the same after the program. It didn't change. Additionally, the incidence of non-firearm related suicides declined post 1997 at more or less the exact same rate as firearm related suicides. So unless you think the gun buyback program caused a decrease in non-firearm related suicides that's another very strong piece of evidence.

I have no idea if the gun buyback program was a good use of money or not. I'm not Australian and I've never even been there. So that's something Australians need to decide for themselves. I do know that the program does not appear to have had any significant effect on suicides and we should get the facts straight when talking about it.

Just in case people missed it again, here is the chart I linked to earlier in my comment.
posted by Justinian at 1:18 PM on August 30, 2010


Justinian, there's a little thing you can do called time series statistics. It's generally a better way to go than simply looking at a graph. It allows you to regress against multiple explanatory variables, and partition explanatory power to each of them, and calculate a measure of certainty in your predictions. But if we're just going to look at graphs, I'd intuitively say that both time and gun buyback would be come out as significant effects here.
posted by Jimbob at 2:14 PM on August 30, 2010


Jimbob: I'm quite aware of statistical methods... but without the actual data, how do you propose I do anything except look at the graphs? If you have access to the data, by all means lets look at it. But I can't find it anywhere among the links. As much as I'd love to be able to access stuff like that I'm not about to buy a subscription to American Law and Economics Review.
posted by Justinian at 3:12 PM on August 30, 2010


(That said, the rate of decrease in firearm-related and NFR suicides clearly isn't the same despite my previous comment since that chart uses different scales on either side, which I neglected)
posted by Justinian at 3:25 PM on August 30, 2010


I am firmly of the opinion that controlling access to hand guns has a big impact on the rate of gun violence. However, this paper is not one I would display to support my hypothesis. It has a fundamental weakness that undercuts its message.

When I was just a wee statistician sprout working for a large midwestern public research university located in a pair of cities that straddle the Mississippi River, I worked on a small project funded by the DEA and intended to estimate the impact of the Drug Control Amendments of 1970, the law which created the DEA and set up the current schedules I - IV for controlled substances. We were to go out and find data sources, such as dosage units diverted from licit channels, street drug buys, emergency room admissions, and prescription audits, then analyze those data to estimate the effect. The project officer already "knew" there was big impact, because he had done a quick and dirty analysis comparing the average values of a few data series before the scheduling took effect and after. We looked and looked and looked again at our voluminous time series (adjusted for autocorrelation, of course) while doing change-point analyses. These are essentially regressions that attempt to find the point at which the trend in a time series changes, as opposed to simply looking for a difference in average level before and after. Except for some anticipatory effects, it is difficult to reason that policy actions can reach back far in time to effect change, so we were looking for a change in the rate of change, if you will. After examining all these time series, we found only two significant changes: the number of pills in a prescription went up, and the number of prescriptions went down. However, the trend in the total number of pills prescribed did not change, nor did those for the number of drug deaths, ER admissions related to drugs, quantities recovered in street buys, drugs submitted for anonymous analysis, the number of pills diverted from licit channels, or the number of doses seized in drug busts. The project officer was livid, accusing us of incompetence and threatening to blacklist my institution from federal funding (an illegal threat, as it turned out). Note that I am still here and still funded.

This paper makes the same mistake the DEA project officer made. Figure 1a pretty clearly shows a downward trend in firearm-related suicides and homicides starting sometime between 1980 and 1988, well before the buy-back was a gleam in Howard's eye. Pick any arbitrary point in the middle of a sloping trend like that, and there will be a statistically significant difference in average level before and after that point. This study proves nothing about the impact of the buy back. I am curious about what happened in the time period 1980 to 1988, though, because it appears to have had a big impact on rates of gun violence.

Regarding the value of a prevented suicide, it is too strong to say that the value society places on it is wildly different than some other utility measure for it. I would be hard-pressed to come up with a better measure of its value than what we are willing to pay for it. I don't find any fault with that measure. It's just that there doesn't seem to be an impact on rates of the buy-back program.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:26 PM on August 30, 2010


Those who can't find the data for no change in homicide rates should perhaps review my original post?
posted by wilful at 4:28 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Regarding the value of a prevented suicide, it is too strong to say that the value society places on it is wildly different than some other utility measure for it. I would be hard-pressed to come up with a better measure of its value than what we are willing to pay for it. I don't find any fault with that measure.

Neither do I. I simply find fault with calling the value society places on something "an economic boost per year of $500 million", when that's not what it is.
posted by vorfeed at 5:14 PM on August 30, 2010


vorfeed, heres another way of explaining
Right now its not a boost of $500 million, but think about 40 years from now.
If you go with the estimates, there would have been a total of 8000 people saved.
Now pick how much you think each person contributes each year, lets just go with $50,000.
So in the year 2050 those 8000 people would contribute $400,000,000.

Thats pretty close to $500 million.
Now some of those people will be dying from old age, but there would be new prevented gun suicides to balance the out, so by that year the economic boost could stabilize around that level.

Thats how I assumed they got that "an economic boost per year of $500 million"
posted by Iax at 11:35 PM on August 30, 2010


Surely, calculated into that $500mil is the 'family and friends' factor. When someone suicides, those close to them are often unable to function and may require medical treatment due to the emotional impact of the suicide. For every suicide that doesn't eventuate, those half dozen or dozen close family and friends are not stricken with the sorrow and they remain productive.

For those playing along outside Australia it's worth remembering that our national health care system would pay for any medical costs incurred by those remaining behind after a suicide and those savings would be factored into the $500mil along with the continued productivity of all the people who would have been affected.
posted by Kerasia at 1:13 AM on August 31, 2010


vorfeed, heres another way of explaining
Right now its not a boost of $500 million, but think about 40 years from now.


One year at $400,000,000 40 years from now doesn't add up to 40 years at $400,000,000. Again, the problem here is the "every year" part.

There's just no way to get that kind of benefit out of 200 people "every year"... which is probably why the study didn't even claim this. It claims that society would have been willing to pay 500M to save 200 lives that year, not that 200 lives actually benefit the economy at 500M per year.

The study admits that you can't assume the suicide rate is going to sit still for 40 years, also. If people eventually switch from guns to another method, or if suicides go back up in general, the effect may disappear.
posted by vorfeed at 9:25 AM on August 31, 2010


Mental Wimp, the Norwegian data I cited earlier also had a reduction in firearms-related violence from the 1980s. I'm guessing this is because the number of unregistered weapons went down, and gun safes and trigger locks became more common.
posted by Harald74 at 1:34 AM on September 1, 2010


The Norwegian statistics bureau also lump together explosives and firearms in one category, but I'm fairly certain we don't blow each other up all that often...
posted by Harald74 at 1:38 AM on September 1, 2010


craniac wrote:
This whole discussion makes me hungry for objective data, but this discussion also makes me wonder whether an objective analysis can even happen.


Probably the single best analysis of the existing research on guns, violence, and crime is Targetting Guns by Gary Kleck. Despite being intended for a niche academic audience, it's quite accessible (I think) for anyone with a Mefi-level of reading comprehension and education. You can read it for free here.
posted by K.P. at 1:22 PM on September 2, 2010


Probably the single best analysis of the existing research on guns, violence, and crime is Targetting Guns by Gary Kleck. Despite being intended for a niche academic audience, it's quite accessible (I think) for anyone with a Mefi-level of reading comprehension and education. You can read it for free here.

No, I disagree. Gary Kleck is a grinding wheel sharpening only a single axe. He's already taken a stand, his methods are sloppy (but output prodigious), and he doesn't understand epidemiology. He thinks he's doing sociology, but violence is primarily a public health problem and should be studied in that light. He thinks the answers lie in total levels of gun ownership (which he admits early on in the cited book don't vary much) and societal levels of violence (which he admits vary greatly for other reasons) and he ignores individual-level data necessary to understand the relationship between causal exposures and outcomes. He uses grandiose models with unsupported assumptions that are wildly misspecified. He doesn't even recognize the threat of ecologic bias.

The firm proof of a relationship between smoking and lung cancer didn't come initially from large complex generalized linear models using observations of smoking levels and lung cancer rates in society, but rather case-control studies of people with and without lung cancer and their personal smoking histories. The same is true for gun violence. And there have been many, many studies of gun ownership and violence published in reputable public health and medical journals by disinterested researchers without a preordained conclusion.

PubMed is a good place to start looking, or maybe with this review. You'll see that there is still a lot to learn about the relationship between gun ownership and violence (including suicide), and that the certainty which Kleck brings to the discussion is wildly misplaced.

And please, please, never take a book as a starting place for such a highly charged subject with so much in propaganda dollars pumped into the public discourse from highly interested economic interests. Read the peer-reviewed literature, starting with review articles.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:55 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


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