Academic standards questionable - medical article takes aim at gun owners

An article published in Australia’s leading general medical journal has raised serious concerns about the standard of academia with blatant evidence of bias and easily challenged claims. The article ‘The Port Arthur massacre and the National Firearms Agreement: 20 years on, what are the lessons?’ published in the May edition of The Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) lists four authors who are all affiliated with known anti-gun group, the National Coalition for Gun Control. Two of the four authors are vocal about increased restrictions on licensed firearm owners.

One author, Philip Alpers, does not even list any academic qualifications or credentials and is linked with anti-gun group Gun Control Australia (GCA), while the article itself was originally scheduled for an inappropriate release on the anniversary of the Port Arthur murders. Fellow author Rebecca Peters is known for her involvement in the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), which is increasingly against civilian firearm ownership. The other accredited co-authors are Alan Rosen and Michael Dudley.

Laced with sweeping statements, figures citing cases of “mass gun killings” spanning from 1987 to 2015 actually fall under different legislation, therefore making the article an unreliable source of data. Further claims that the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) has “reduced firearm deaths, particularly suicides” are at a stretch considering the NFA predominately focused on banning self-loading longarms. The reality is self-loading firearms are not necessary for suicide given that the trigger only needs to be pulled once.

A major criticism of the article is that the authors appear to appeal to the Australian sentiment of a ‘fair go for all’ and defends those with mental health issues by stating that “screening mentally ill populations for violence risk is misguided”. At the same time, the authors target other minority groups in society by labelling them “high risk populations”. This includes, but is not limited to, children, teenagers, farmers and anyone who lives in regional communities, who have been deemed “high risk” without much supporting evidence. The hypocrisy of the article is clear: we are asked not to target specific groups such as the mentally ill when it comes to gun control measures, but in the same breath are warned that other minorities are supposedly at risk of conducting mass gun murders!

While the SSAA backs mental health initiatives such as headspace youth support clinics and increased government funding in this challenging area, we must point out that some of Australia’s biggest mass murders were carried out by criminally mentally ill individuals. This includes the perpetrator of the Monash University shootings, Huan Yun Xiang, who was acquitted due to mental impairment; anti-gun campaigner Michelle Fernando’s sister, Shamin, who shot their father and was clinically diagnosed with a mental illness; and the mentally unstable arsonist Robert Long who was responsible for the Childers Palace Backpackers fires that killed 15 people.

In what can only be described as deliberate laziness to push a political point, claims that the medical community “has long supported bans for semi-automatic handguns” refers to no sources and gives no supporting evidence. The SSAA can confirm that many of our 180,000 members are doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals who historically compete in handgun competition shooting.

Finally, references to Martin Bryant as not being mentally ill during the Port Arthur murders are misguided and highly debatable. A litany of anti-social and concerning behaviour from childhood up until the murders meant he was well known to police for being mentally unstable prior to the tragedy.

The authors are unable to explain throughout their ‘academic’ article why it is appropriate to call for further restrictions on law-abiding firearm owners and other minority groups despite much supporting evidence. It is a poor excuse for a journal article and the SSAA is disappointed the MJA choose to publish the fluff piece in the first place, scribed by well-known anti-gun lobbyists.

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