New gun lock research from Australia

There is a new report out by the Australian Institute of Criminology on Firearms Theft . While the discussion is not clearly written in the text, it was my understanding from talking to Jenny Mouzos that out of 664 firearms stolen there were five instances where stolen guns were used in "crime or violence" (two of those instances involved a suicide) (p. 11 and 59). There was apparently one murder committed with a stolen gun.

When I talked to Jenny, one question that I asked her was how many defensive gun uses there were in Australia, and she told me that it was a crime to use a gun defensively, though she didn't know more than that. She did not even know how many prosecutions there were of defensive uses (completely guessing it could be a dozen times a year that people are prosecuted), though I noted that would presumably provide a lower bound on defensive uses since not all such cases are likely to be reported to the police. The bottom line that I tried to get across to her is that while she advocates locking up guns, it is quite possible that more lives were lost from locking up guns and people not being able to use them defensively than were saved by locks making it difficult for criminals to steal guns. Unfortunately, her report completely ignores this trade-off despite our discussion. My research published in the Journal of Law and Economics on gun lock laws in the United States that explicitly analyzes this trade-off was presented at conference she attended in New Zealand earlier this year.

The report indicates that in Australia .04% of guns were stolen (1 out of every 2,500 guns). That means that .0003% of guns owned lawfully are stolen and used in a "crime or violence." Given the very expensive safes required to lock up the guns, I wouldn't be surprised if the costs of the locks alone more than offset and benefits from the regulations. Though it is not the levels but the changes in crimes with stolen guns that is the issue, that benefit is also likely to be small as the report acknowledges that there was a downward pre-existing trend in firearms stolen prior to the gun lock requirements and that it continued afterwards.

She makes a lot of strong claims that guns should be locked up, but there is really no evidence in this paper that proves that the benefits exceed the costs. To do that type of study you want to see how much these gun lock laws changed the number of crimes committed with guns or at least the number of guns stolen and compare it to the costs of those laws (fewer defensive uses, cost of locks, etc.). The report doesn't really systematically examine any of these changes or trade-offs in costs and benefits. As just noted, the closest that the report comes to any of this is to say that there was a downward pre-existing trend in firearms stolen prior to the gun lock requirements and that it continued afterwards.

Thanks to James Murray for alerting me to this study.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laws that limit gun use (locking them up) or prohibit possession or ownership of guns always limit or prohibit self defense; in other words the laws against guns tend to create the opposite effect they were enacted to produce.

When a law requires guns to be locked in a safe or have a trigger lock then the effect will protect some children from either shooting themselves or from another child from shooting a child, but the greater effect is to "create a false sense of security" and leave the gun owner, and children of gun owners, more vulnerable to harm when a gun, locked in a safe, or locked by a trigger lock is needed to stop an attack against a parent of a child or an attack against both but cannot be handled in time to protect both the parent and the child.

The people (politicians) creating the laws that limit gun use are the ones that know the least about the benefits of gun use.


5/14/2006 8:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Jenny Mouzos said that “it was a crime to use a gun defensively” in Australia, that is not an entirely accurate statement.
Firstly: to own any type of firearm except a limited range of antiques, you must have a licence and you cannot get a licence to own a firearm for the purpose of self-defence. You can get a licence for other reasons, eg to engage in target shooting (including handguns) or hunting (long-arms only). So if you want to own a gun for defensive purposes you have to lie about your reasons.
Next, the laws regarding the legal defence of self-defence in my State, Queensland, can basically be summarised as follows: a person may use only such force as is reasonably necessary to defend against an assault. But you may not use force intended or likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm (GBH) unless the nature of the assault against you gives you reason to fear death or GBH and you cannot defend yourself in any other way (such as by running away).
GBH is the loss of a distinct part or organ of the body, serious disfigurement or an injury of a nature that would be life threatening or likely to cause permanent injury to health if the injury were left untreated.
I understand that the law regarding self-defence is similar in the other States.
So you can use a gun defensively (let’s call it ‘deadly force’) in Australia to prevent death or GBH or to protect someone else against death or GBH. You cannot use it if there is an alternative, eg if running away is reasonably possible. You cannot use deadly force to defend against other crimes such as rape, any kind of assault that isn’t likely to cause death or GBH, robbery, home invasion, etc.
Any woman who uses deadly force against someone who threatened to rape her needs to remember to tell the police that her attacker clearly stated that he was going to rape AND kill her.
But that may not be the end of your legal problems. Even if, having shot someone, you can satisfy the requirements for a successful claim of self-defence, you aren’t necessarily out of legal trouble. You need to be able to ‘justify’ how you happened to have a loaded gun handy in time to defend yourself. Illegal possession of guns can get you from two years and up in prison. The storage requirements for legally owned guns make it almost impossible for you to comply and have a loaded gun in your hand when you need it. Any breach of the storage requirements can result in a criminal charge and loss of your licence and your guns. You cannot, for example, admit to keeping a loaded gun at your bedside at night, even if you live in the most dangerous or isolated place in Australia.

Scenarios where you might claim self-defence and also escape charges over ‘failure to safely store’ your gun and ammo:
(a) I heard a suspicious noise in the house and, fearing for my life, I unlocked the safe and got my revolver out, unlocked my ammunition storage container, and took out some ammo. When I then saw the intruder in my house, I am certain that I saw a weapon in his hand. I then loaded my revolver. All means of escape were cut off either by the intruder or by locked doors and security screened windows. As he came towards me, I told the intruder to stop or I would shoot. He kept coming towards me saying he was going to kill me. He ignored the gun pointed at him. Perhaps he thought it was a replica. I shot him. (You would be in a better position if a weapon such as a knife is found by the police beside the body.)

(b) I had just finished cleaning my gun and had taken my ammo out to check how low my supply was when there was a violent knocking at the door. Assuming that there was some kind of emergency, I opened the door to find X there. X, who is larger and much stronger than me, forced his way in, all the while threatening my life. I retreated to the room where I had left the gun and ammo, unable to retreat further I loaded the gun quickly and when X kept coming at me, I was forced to shoot.

(c) I had just finished cleaning my gun and had taken my ammo out to check how low my supply was when I heard my neighbour screaming: “He’s killing me!” or words to that effect. Through the window, I saw her being violently attacked by ex-husband/ex-boyfriend/stranger. With the gun and some ammo in hand, I rushed to her aid and was forced to shoot when he continued the attack obviously intending murder. (You would need to have a reason why you couldn’t stop him any other way. For example, he appeared to be about to break her neck and there wasn’t time to wrestle him off her; or, he was a large powerful man and you were unable to physically take him on.)

Publicised cases of self-defence involving guns are fairly rare. It is virtually impossible for an ordinary citizen to get a carry permit so most self-defence cases involving firearms involve some form of attack at a gun-owner’s home. As mentioned before the storage requirements for guns is such that if you comply with them, you have virtually no chance of getting your gun out and loaded in time to use it defensively, no matter how justified it may be. Which is why we read plenty of stories in the papers about people being viciously assaulted and often killed in their own homes but very few cases of self-defence involving guns.
The only cases I can recall were all in Brisbane, my home city. In one case, it involved an after dark home invasion where the youth carrying a club made from a tree branch was shot by the occupant apparently after the youth ignored a warning to stop and continued advancing on the resident. A jury acquitted the resident.
In another an elderly resident shot an intruder in the garage of his home when the apparently drug affected intruder continued to advance towards the resident. He was taken to court, and had to mortgage his home to cover the A$40,000 in legal expenses. After being acquitted, he had no way of paying off that mortgage.
Unfortunately the newspapers didn’t bother to mention whether they faced other charges relating to the storage of their firearms.
Tony from Aus

5/17/2006 8:29 AM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Thanks, Tony. I really appreciate the feedback. The claim about not being able use a gun defensively is something that I heard from both Australians and New Zealanders during the conference that I attended in New Zealand during February. It was indeed Jenny's response when I asked about the impact that gun locks can have on defensive gun use. Possibly it is just a question of prosecutors actively going after people who use a gun defensively. In any case, there was the strong impression that I got regarding the unwillingness for people to report defensive gun uses. When I get some time, I will email a couple of the people who I talked to at the conference. Thanks again.

5/17/2006 2:18 PM  

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