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How heroic are lecturers?

October 23rd, 2002

Early news reports suggested that the Monash killer was disarmed by an econometrics lecturer, Lee Gordon-Brown, who tackled him, with the assistance of students. But this report says the helpers were another lecturer, Brett Inder (a distant acquaintance of mine) and a student who turns out also to be a part-time lecturer and martial arts champion. I certainly hope I never have to deal with anything like this, but these guys are setting a pretty high standard for the rest of us, whether or not they want to be called heroes.

At this stage, it’s not clear whether the push for better gun laws will fizzle out into meaningless tightening of rules that will be evaded as soon as our attention is diverted, or whether we’ll get a buyback sufficiently broad to remove most handguns from the community. I suspect that the politicians who are ducking for cover have misjudged the politics of this question (I’m sure they all know that the right policy is a near-total ban). At least in country Australia, rifles and shotguns were standard tools until quite recently, and restrictions on their ownership and use raised real concerns about the erosion of traditional ways of life. Handguns are the province of urban criminals, psychos, collectors (whose motives must be considered dubious) and a relatively small number of genuine sportspeople whose needs could be accommodated through an armoury system. A handgun ban will be much easier politically than the ban on semi-automatic rifles and shotguns.

Update Alex Robson weighs into the gun debate, showing in the process that you can prove anything with statistics, or at least give it the old college try. He quotes Joyce Malcolm saying:

In 1981 the American rate [of homicide] was 8.7 times the English rate, in 1995 it was 5.7 times the English rate, and the latest study puts it at 3.5 times ..(one sentence snipped)… Yet Americans still enjoy a substantially lower rate of violent crime than England, without the “restraint on personal liberty” English governments have seen as necessary.

If Americans “enjoy” 3.5 times the murder risk, I’ll stick with Australian misery. And while I’m not sure precisely what is meant by “restraint on personal liberty” , the reduction in American murder rates in the 1990s has been achieved, in part, by imposing the highest rates of imprisonment in the developed world (I think anywhere in the world, but I’ll check this).

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