Firearm opponent slams mental health check plan in global forum

Rachael Oxborrow

Passing a mental health check should not be a requirement as part of the extensive checks and balances which form the firearms licensing process in Australia, a view the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA National) has maintained in the face of repeated calls by anti-civilian firearm ownership spokespeople. The current regulations, which assess an applicant to be a ‘fit and proper’ person, won’t be improved by bringing health professionals into the process.

But it seems at least one anti-firearm commentator has joined our chorus and shares similar reasoning. University of Sydney Adjunct Associate Professor Philip Alpers has labelled the concept ‘hazardous’ and ‘inaccurate’ and warned the measure would undermine the relationship between general practitioners (GPs) and their patients.

He made the comments while participating in a recent online forum on Gun Control and Firearms Policy for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. “That (mental health checks) has been discussed right around the world,” he said. “There are a bunch of countries that already do it, Austria and Germany have laws which say you must have a mental health check before you qualify to own a firearm.

“Now that is full of hazards because even forensic psychiatrists, who have full-time access to patients for a long time, say the chances of predicting future violence isn’t much better than tossing a coin.” He went on to stress “the next thing people say is GPs should flag if people are in danger of killing someone with a gun”. “But for GPs, their greatest tool is trust of their patients,” he said and pointed to this view being shared by medical associations around the world. “GPs don’t feel they should be held responsible for any future violence when the art of prediction is so non-existent.”

Mr Alpers has 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. Yet he’s often quoted as a seemingly non-biased source in the media via his website The website lays claim to being a voice of reason using “evidence-based, country-by-country intelligence from a broad range of official and academic sources” situated in “a sea of websites offering unverified, polarised opinions on gun violence”.

Over the years Mr Alpers has made many misinformed or blatantly untrue statements which paint the concept of firearm ownership and shooting sports as being the root of many problems in society. The forum he took part in was convened by Duke University Political Science Professor Kirstin Goss and also featured University of Arizona Sociology Government and Public Policy Professor Jennifer Carlson, University of Southern California Law Professor Mugambi Jouet and Uruguay Ministry of the Interior Political Scientist and Focused Police Crime Prevention Strategies Coordinator Diego Sanjurjo.

Its purpose was to explore comparative and international perspectives on firearms policy and gun control with particular focus on the US. Mr Alpers highlighted Australia having “the most comprehensive suite of firearm injury prevention measures” since firearm legislation was brought in post-1996. He also debunked the frequently used anti-firearm catch-cry that firearm laws had been “watered down” in Australia over time by saying that “since 2001 most of the world’s countries have tightened gun laws”.

His surprisingly reasonable comments didn’t continue throughout the entire forum however, as he returned to demonising law-abiding firearm owners who are some of the most heavily policed private citizens in Australia. In answer to the question: “What’s one puzzle or conundrum you’d like to solve in your research and what makes doing that difficult?” he said: “I’d love to know what proportion of gun owners commit crimes and what proportion of crimes are committed by gun owners.”

“Many studies have been done outside of the US which show a great majority of victims in mass shootings are killed by licensed gun owners,” he said. “Now it’s very easy in our country to say whether they were licensed or not licensed but because the US has no licensing, no registration, it’s very hard to do but there must be ways to work that out. It would be I think Illuminating to a lot of gun owners to realise they’re part of the problem.”

Now in Australia, thanks to credible research put together through the Australian Institute of Criminology, it can easily be deduced that this narrative is untrue and effectively fear-mongering. AIC study ‘The Licensing and Registration Status of Firearms Used in Homicide’ assessed that a “majority of firearms used to commit homicide were not registered and the perpetrators of firearm-related homicide were not licensed firearms owners”.

“Those who commit homicide in Australia are individuals who have circumvented legislation and will be least likely to be affected if further restrictions on firearms ownership are introduced,” the study said. “Any further restrictions will most likely affect individuals who are the law-abiding shooters in Australia who’ve already made significant sacrifices in furtherance of public safety.”

We only need to look at the 2022 Deakin University study ‘I know a guy and he’s got guns galore: Accessing guns in Australian Illicit Firearms Market’ to illuminate the real problem this country has with illegal firearms. The study outlines that a cohesive network of career criminals who value trust and secrecy as paramount to conducting their unlawful dealings is running a thriving illicit gun trade. Researchers discovered it was also “surprisingly easy” for criminals to buy firearms through Australia’s ‘black market’ despite the country’s strict gun laws.

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