Take That NRA: Australia Shows That Smart Gun Policies Can Make a Big Difference

While conservatives are busying trying to shutdown any debate on gun control following the 45th school shooting this year by yelling about Chicago’s murder rates— apparently unaware that Chicago is the third largest city in the country but not even in the top five cities with the highest murder rate per capita — and reflexively decrying any mention of gun control as a “gun grab,” what if we just entertained their wildest conspiracy theories for just a bit?


A 2015 study found that when guns are used to kill people in the United States, they are overwhelmingly used for murder rather than self-defense. That study found that in 2012, there were only 259 justifiable homicides, or what is commonly referred to as self-defense, compared to 8,342 criminal firearm homicides. In 2008-2012, the report says, guns were used in 42,419 criminal homicides and only 1,108 justifiable homicides.

So if Americans aren’t using their guns for self-defense, does it make sense to do away with the charade of “sensible gun restrictions” talk and just get real about banning at least some guns outright?

Of course, America is awash in guns with approximately one gun for every U.S. citizen, but would examining Australia’s model on guns, as President Obama has suggested, be instructive for our gun violence crisis?

“When Australia had a mass killing … it was just so shocking the entire country said, ‘Well, we’re going to completely change our gun laws,’ and they did. And it hasn’t happened since,” the president recently told comedian Marc Maron.

So let’s put obvious cultural differences aside and examine the claim.

On April 29, 1996, a a 28-year-old man went on a murderous rampage with a rifle in the former Australian colonial town of Port Arthur, Tasmania, killing 35 people and injuring 23 more before eventually being apprehended.

Shocked by the horrific magnitude of the massacre, Australian lawmakers passed sweeping new gun laws in a matter of days — 12 to be exact.

The National Firearms Agreement and Buyback Program, as the package of legislation was called, prohibited the sale of shotguns as well as semiautomatic and self-loading rifles. Waiting periods and safety courses became mandatory for new gun owners and limits on the sale of ammunition were imposed.

Most importantly, perhaps, the legislation allocated $250 million for a gun buyback program, allowing for newly outlawed rifles and shotgun to be destroyed by the Australian government. Ultimately more than 640,000 firearms were either purchased by the Australian government or voluntarily handed in.

So did the confiscation work?

A 2012 study estimated  260,000 illegal guns were still in circulation Down Under, and a more recent report from Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp (I can sense the eye rolls) found that 37,000 new gun licenses were issued in the last five years, reportedly resulting in no increased gun related crimes.

Of course, under Australia’s reformed gun regulatory scheme, a licensed firearm owner is required to be reevaluated every five years and if authorities discovery any “reliable evidence” of a mental or physical barrier to responsible gun ownership, the license is revoked.

Pretty remarkable statistics.

Of course, mass shootings haven’t been eliminated in Australia. In 2011 three people were killed and three were wounded in the Hectorville siege and last year three people (including the gunman) were killed during the Sydney hostage crisis. But compare those numbers to the 112 people killed during the 13 mass shootings in the 18 years prior to the passage of Australia’s National Firearms Agreement and Buyback Program.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.