Addressing Alpers’ inaccuracies – again

It seems barely a week goes by without a blatantly biased or incorrect statement regarding firearms or the shooting sports appearing in the media. It is also apparent that these statements continue to come from the same questionable protagonists. Adjunct Associate Professor Philip Alpers, from the University of Sydney, is one of them.

The SSAA has been following Mr Alpers’ career in misinformation since the outset, providing members and journalists with the facts on his misleading claims and biased background via our website and Australian Shooter magazine. It is vital that the media understands his ties with the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and the Pacific Small Arms Action Group – both organisations which oppose private civilian firearm ownership – making him far from a reliable unaligned academic.

Mr Alpers has appeared again in the media in early October 2015, penning a piece for the left-leaning online publication, The Conversation. In his latest fictional tale, Mr Alpers attacks licensed firearm owners in an attempt to marginalise us from the rest of the community and unfairly tar law-abiding owners with an evil killer-color brush. “In 16 mass shootings in Australia and New Zealand between 1987 and 2014, 135 people died. Most of the victims – 55 per cent – were shot by previously law-abiding, licensed gun owners using legally held firearms,” Mr Alpers writes with his poison pen.

Mr Alpers fails to mention that Australia did not have the same regulations regarding licensing and registration prior to 1996 apart from handguns, which have been highly regulated since World War One. Therefore, the SSAA suggests statistics from pre-1996 should not be used to draw comparisons. In fact, the post-1996 mass murders he refers to includes one that occurred in New Zealand, which has a different regulatory environment again, with the perpetrator found to be unlicensed. Additionally, Mr Alpers points to a 2014 New South Wales incident, which was a murder-suicide with a history of family violence.

Mr Alpers goes on to say that, “When Australian authorities traced firearms found in crime, the majority were found to have leaked from licensed gun owners and rogue firearm dealers, either directly into the criminal black market or into the larger ‘grey market’. Australian gun owners who neglected to register their firearms after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 created this market.”

The SSAA has received correspondence from the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) and Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) confirming that less than 10 per cent of firearms traced by the ACC were found to be from theft, with the majority (45.2 per cent) found to be ‘grey market’ longarms. There is no evidence to suggest grey market longarms are linked to those who now hold firearms licences. Indeed, the SSAA suggests it is more likely that following the buy-backs, those who wanted to keep these longarms did not bother obtaining a licence at all.

Mr Alpers must have also missed the memo from the Greens-led Senate Inquiry into gun-related violence in which no evidence was found to suggest that firearms stolen from licensed owners is the predominant source of supply for criminals or the black market. In fact, the Senate Inquiry report, signed by the majority of Committee members, specifically states, “The hypothesis that illegal guns are mainly stolen from registered gun owners was not supported by the evidence presented to the Committee.”

The majority report also acknowledged our nation’s porous borders and lack of border patrol resources as having a real impact on the number of illegal firearms coming into our country and into the hands of criminals or organised crime syndicates. Furthermore, the AIC found that around just three per cent of stolen firearms are subsequently used to commit a crime – a far cry from the ‘majority’ Mr Alpers claims.

In what may be his most misleading line to date, Mr Alpers draws the unfortunate and sad argument surrounding suicides into the debate. “Suicides make up 77 per cent of gun deaths in Australia. In the UK it is 70 per cent,” he states, before further deliberately surmising, “Do most firearms used in suicide belong to law-abiding gun owners? We can’t be sure – the research hasn’t been done. Perhaps the result is so self-evident that we don’t ask the question. If the answer is yes, then licensed gun owners are also mainly responsible for the largest of all categories of firearm-related death.”

This offensive line of argument tries to put the blame for suicides on the licensed firearm community. The SSAA research team found that only eight per cent of suicides between 1994 and 2004 involved a firearm, although suicides overall have increased. Even the 2006 studies showed only 8.7 per cent of suicides for that year used a firearm (145 people). If, as we suspect, Mr Alpers has simply added homicides using a firearm with suicides using a firearm, of course the suicide rate of gun deaths would be higher, because only 16 per cent of homicides used a firearm according to 2011-12 figures.

The final nail in the coffin for licensed firearm owners, as far as Mr Alpers is concerned, is in regards to police deaths. He quotes a Sydney Morning Herald article from 2012, stating, “According to an Australian police union: Since 2000, half the police gunned down in the line of duty were killed by licensed firearms owners.” Comments on Mr Alpers’ column linking to the Queensland Police website rightly show a total of four police have been shot and killed since 2000, with two of the perpetrators confirmed to be unlicensed; one unlikely to have held a licence being a convicted armed robber, while the other may have had a licence, although this information is not publically available. The SSAA also understands that suicides by police using their own government-issued firearm is a leading cause of death within the force, as reported by the ABC in June 2015.

As the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) review continues and terrorism concerns draw legitimate firearms interests kicking and screaming into the illicit firearms debate, it is unfortunately likely that Mr Alpers will continue to gain a public platform for his views. It is also apparent that his website is now back in action after losing funding, with a statement on the website saying: “After a funding hiatus forced us to remove several features and to suspend all activities in 2014, was relaunched in January 2015. With the support of the United Nations trust fund UNSCAR and its 10 donor governments, our research team has been rebuilt.”

The SSAA will continue to correct any incorrect claims made by Mr Alpers or his website, along with any other groups or politicians that unfairly link the licensed, law-abiding firearm owner with the criminal elements of society. We encourage our members to do the same.

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