ACT MP influencing US commentator on gun control

Federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh.
Federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh.

Research on gun control by the ACT's Andrew Leigh is being quoted in the United States after the latest mass shooting there claimed the lives of 26 people including school children.

Conservative US political commentator Bill O'Reilly cited Dr Leigh's work during a debate on tighter gun control on Fox News.

O'Reilly was interviewing the gun ownership advocate and founder of the Second Amendment Foundation Alan Gottlieb on tighter gun controls in the wake of the Newtown school massacre in Connecticut last week.

"In Australia they did ban semi-automatic weapons, and the crime rate plummeted there," O'Reilly said.

"They say in Australia that was a very effective public policy."

When Gottlieb disagreed with O'Reilly on the statistics, O'Reilly directly cited the ANU research paper.

"...according to Andrew Leigh of the national university there, who studied over a period of 10 years, homicides fell 59 per cent, and suicides 65 per cent. So that's the latest study out of there," O'Reilly said.

O'Reilly, traditionally seen as a conservative commentator and a self-confessed "Second Amendment guy", has previously advocated against gun control. However, after citing Leigh's research paper, O'Reilly went on to question whether laws needed to be tightened.

"I am a Second Amendment guy, and I know what the founding fathers' intent was. They wanted Americans to be able to defend themselves. There isn't any question about it. But I think we can tighten it up a little bit."

Dr Leigh wrote the paper with Christine Neill during his time as an economist at the ANU as an economist, before becoming the Member for Fraser. The work was not published until 2010.

The paper examined the implications of the 1997 national gun buy back, established by then prime minister John Howard after the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996 in which 35 people were killed.

Dr Leigh said the buyback brought significant change.

“It took the rate of mass shootings down from one a year in the period before the Port Arthur massacre, to none since," he told Fairfax Media on Wednesday.

“It's easy to forget that these things were an annual occurrence – Port Arthur, Strathfield, Hoddle Street – mass shootings were a regular feature of Australian public life in the late 80s and early 90s.

“Most of the lives saved by the national buyback weren't from the mass shootings that were averted, they were from fewer gun suicides and fewer gun homicides, because mass shootings account for a very small share of all gun deaths.

“Our estimate is that the gun buy back and the associated tightening of gun control laws saved about 200 lives annually and that still continues, most of those in averted gun suicides."

It isn't the first time the research has caught the attention of American news organisations - it was also cited by the Washington Post in August this year.

Dr Leigh's research was published in the American Law and Economics Review.

Mr Howard's plan with the states and territories banned all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, and imposed a tightly restrictive system of licensing and ownership controls.

Public debate in the US has focussed heavily on gun ownership laws since 26 people, including 20 young children, were killed by a gunman with an assault rifle.

Over the weekend a Twitter exchange between media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Coalition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull attracted significant attention on social media.

''Terrible news today. When will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons? As in Oz after similar tragedy," Mr Murdoch said.

Mr Turnbull then observed: "@rupertmurdoch I suspect they will find the courage when Fox News enthusiastically campaigns for it."

The reply was retweeted more than 2400 times, with more than 1000 "favourites", as of Monday morning.

with Hamish Boland-Rudder

This story ACT MP influencing US commentator on gun control first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.