Free speech versus flawed speech - Philip Alpers’ biased, anti-gun reporting

As shooters, we are acutely aware that not everyone agrees with our chosen sport. It is common for people and particular groups to dismiss factual and scientific evidence regarding shooting, even though it brings demonstrable benefits across economic, cultural and social levels. In a country where freedom of expression is celebrated, differing views on shooting are welcome and invited. But when such views are purportedly justified with misstatements and subjective scientific opinions masquerading as facts, the debate against firearms cannot be taken seriously.

A vocal critic of private firearm ownership is one Philip Alpers. If you search for Mr Alpers on the SSAA website, 33 different articles appear. His dissent dates back to the 1990s, where he popped up at a Small/Light Arms Campaign meeting with 29 other people, including Australian Coalition for Gun Control’s Rebecca Peters, in Washington DC, circa 1997. The topics of disarmament and domestic gun control were high on this group’s agenda.

He then reared his head at a United Nation’s Firearms Workshop in New Delhi in 1998, where he attended as a ‘Gun policy researcher’. His speech to the gathering was littered, amongst other things, with proof that he longs for a blanket ban on private firearm ownership, despite declaring to be a target shooter himself.

“To many of us, it is simply self-evident that the availability of firearms is directly related to their subsequent use in crime and violence,” he said. “Put even more simply, without a gun, there can be no shooting.”

“Gun registration in particular is recognised as the cornerstone of any effective tracking and tracing system for firearms. In promoting the regulation of firearms at these workshops, you earn the thanks of millions of citizens who see it as their right to live without having to worry about someone else in the crowd carrying a gun.

“The fact that firearms hold a special and romantic place in the hearts of a small minority of men should in no way dissuade you from treating guns as just another hazardous consumer product.

“Guns and their owners should never be regarded as somehow exempt from regulation.”

The provocative speech set off warning bells in his home country of New Zealand. Indeed, the then-Sporting Shooter’s Association of New Zealand (SSANZ) president raised concerns about inaccurate information on which the 1998 Workshop based its calls for firearms regulations.

Such rhetoric from Mr Alpers continued over the years, to the point where the SSANZ published a well-researched and documented article listing examples of Mr Alpers’ selective research from his paper, ‘Eleven Years of Mass Gun Killings In Australia and New Zealand, 1987-97’, saying: “...it would be a mammoth task to catalogue all of Mr Alpers’ errors, but we hope this selection from just two pages printed by him, will suffice to put the reader on their guard. Never assume any summary of information by Mr. Alpers is what it at first appears.”

Such errors included the notion that Martin Bryant did not have a “history of mental illness”, with Mr Alpers quoting court statements to that effect, along with the omission of evidence from other shooting incidents to dismiss any mental health claims against the convicted perpetrators. Mr Alpers’ basic maths skills when calculating those affected was also cast under doubt.

Subsequent publications titled and coauthored by Mr Alpers, including ‘Australia’s 1996 Gun Law Reforms: Faster Falls in Firearm Deaths, Firearm Suicides, and a Decade Without Mass Shootings’, and ‘Tight Gun Controls the Most Powerful Weapon’, both clearly demonstrate the gist of his agenda.

The firearms law reformer has addressed the United Nations, the media and students at the University of Sydney (where he is an Associate Professor), calling for tighter gun controls, claiming most illegal guns start their lives as registered legal firearms, and that smuggling into Australia is almost negligible. Despite obvious flaws in his arguments, which the SSAA is vocal about in the media, it is Mr Alpers’ right to have his opinion heard. However, the real crux of the matter comes when identifying where Mr Alpers sources his statistics and research.

Today, Mr Alpers is the founding director of GunPolicy.org, which compares armed violence, firearm injury prevention and gun law across 350 jurisdictions worldwide. The website boasts: “In a sea of web sites offering unverified, polarised opinions on gun violence, GunPolicy.org provides evidence-based, country-by-country intelligence from a broad range of official and academic sources. This university site is for researchers, officials, journalists and advocates who need accurate citations and rapid access to credible sources.”

However, it appears someone has finally woken up to the dubious figures and selective reporting of Mr Alpers, with this website to remain stagnant after resources seem to have finally dried up.

“After 17 years of delivering daily bulletins, and only with great regret, Gun Policy News must close for lack of resources. My sincere thanks go to all our readers and contributors, to former staff, and to past funders of this service,” Mr Alpers laments on the website.

The SSAA has long argued that the website is not a proper academic resource or a representative news reporting system, but rather a biased and selective forum for the dissemination of material consistent with the personal views of Mr Alpers, who also has ties with the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and acts as the regional spokesperson for the Pacific Small Arms Action Group.

Despite Mr Alpers’ announcement that no new material will be published on his website, the SSAA will continue to monitor his website and any other misinformation Mr Alpers spreads about our chosen sport. The SSAA is proud to represent firearm owners, and is always available to the media, universities, politicians and our members to discuss any issues surrounding our sport and industry. All we ask for in return is a mature and factual debate.

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