All over the world there is much controversy over the use of firearms by private citizens.

Protagonists on both sides of the argument use coloured language and argument to put each other down. Much time and money is spent in writing treatises to different governing bodies in the sporting and political arenas by those who would see guns outlawed . An equal effort is spent by those who believe their "right" to own and use firearms is being eroded.

Various governments have tried with varying degrees of success and failure to institute measures that will make their citizens safe from a perceived danger by firearms.

Thinking people will need to sift through the arguments (hopefully backed by statistics and not just assertions and rhetoric) and try to apply their own logic to see what may work and what may not. It would also behoove them to put aside emotion and allow the magnitude/scale of the problem be measured against other of society's ills. If for example out of a million people, 100,000 die early of heart disease while one dies of amoebic meningitis, wouldn't we want to give a much greater priority to solving the heart disease problem?

Similarly we would have to be careful when people tell us one statistic while selectively ignoring another. For example perhaps 600 people are killed by cars in a year. Some might have us believe that banning cars is the answer. They are choosing to ignore the benefits of having cars. Often the statistics are not taken for the positive side. We may know how many peoples lives are taken each year by cars - but do we know how many lives are saved each year by having access to modern vehicular transport?

Thorpe (of the Thorpe Report fame) says:

"Accidental deaths from firearms have averaged nine per year since 1980, less than 1 percent of total accidental deaths, most of which are motor vehicle fatalities."

Am I reading this correctly - that firearms accidents are somewhat insignificant in the overall picture?

He further says:

"By far the majority of deaths from firearms are suicides. They make up 73 percent of firearms deaths, firearm crime 16 percent, and accidents 9 percent. Recent increases in suicides have given New Zealand one of the highest rates of suicide, and particularly of youth suicide. The increase in gun suicides has been less than the overall increase, but is still at an all-time high. The special hazard of firearm suicide is that firearms are one of the most lethal methods of suicide, ranking in lethality just below hanging. Again there is no clear remedy, but steps proposed to reduce the availability of guns in the home should help."

I understand his reason for saying "there is no clear remedy" but his logic defeats me when I try to follow how he gets that "to reduce the availability of guns in the home should help." My reading of his statistic suggests to me that the reason people choose guns over less lethal forms of suicide is because they really want to kill themselves. If they really want to kill themselves and guns weren't available it would seem logical to me that they would simply find some other way.

Another proponent of gun reform, Philip Alpers tells us that there is little difference in the rates of gun crime between New Zealand and Australia - in spite of Australia having the most restrictive laws and New Zealand having the most permissive. I wonder then, why we would want to "fix what isn't broke". Perhaps we could watch what happens in Australia for the next 10 years or so and only follow their lead should their rates of gun crime fall significantly below ours. (You don't have to pay me for that bit of advice, Mr Hawkins. Just following it would be payment enough.)

I've just had another idea that may save the country and firearms owners some money as well as promote a safer environment. Instead of instituting an expensive bureaucratic Firearm Authority that will only get up the noses of responsible firearms owners and will do not a jot for safety - why not make membership of NZ Deerstalkers Association compulsory for rifle owners (or prospective rifle owners) and NZ Pistol Association for handgun owners (it is already). Then make those organizations responsible for the safe training of members and administration of firearms licensing. Take the job off the already overburdened police (as Thorpe suggests), but then give it (together with some suitable resourcing) to organizations with a vested interest in promoting firearm safety and responsible ownership.

Gregg