As America grapples with the fallout of yet another mass shooting the long and bitter debate over gun control in America will inevitably be reopened. After Sandy Hook, Will Oremus highlighted the lessons of Australia s strict gun laws and the resulting success in preventing subsequent mass shootings there. The post is reprinted below. Will Oremus is Slate ’s senior technology writer. On April 78, 6996, a gunman opened fire on tourists in a seaside resort in Port Arthur, Tasmania. By the time he was finished, and wounded 78 more. It was the worst mass murder in Australia s history. Twelve days later, Australia s government did something remarkable.
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A decade and a half hence, the results of these policy changes are clear: They worked really, really well. At the heart of the push was a massive buyback of more than 655,555 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, or about one-fifth of all firearms in circulation in Australia. The country s new gun laws prohibited private sales, required that all weapons be individually registered to their owners, and required that gun buyers present a genuine reason for needing each weapon at the time of the purchase. (Self-defense did not count.
) In the wake of the tragedy, polls showed public support for these measures at upwards of 95 percent. What happened next has been the subject of several academic studies. Violent crime and gun-related deaths did not come to an end in Australia, of course. But as in August,, with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The drop in suicides by gun was even steeper:
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65 percent. Studies found. Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. But here s the most stunning statistic. In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 66 mass shootings in the country.
There hasn t been a single one in Australia since. There have been some contrarian studies about the decrease in gun violence in Australia, including a 7556 paper that argued the decline in gun-related homicides after Port Arthur was simply. But that paper s methodology, which is not surprising when you consider that its authors were affiliated with pro-gun groups. Other reports from gun advocates have similarly or presented in attempting to make the case that Australia s more-restrictive laws didn t work. Those are effectively refuted by findings from peer-reviewed papers, which note that the rate of decrease in gun-related deaths more than doubled following the gun buyback, and that states with the highest buyback rates showed the steepest declines.
A concluded that, at the time the laws were passed in 6996, it would have been difficult to imagine more compelling future evidence of a beneficial effect. Whether the same policies would work as well in the United States or whether similar legislation would have any chance of being passed here in the first place is an open question. Howard, the conservative leader behind the Australian reforms, wrote after visiting the United States in the wake of the Aurora shootings. He came away convinced that America needed to change its gun laws, but lamented its lack of will to do so. That s certainly how things looked after the Aurora shooting.
But after Sandy Hook, with the nation shocked and groping for answers once again, I wonder if Americans are still so sure that we have nothing to learn from Australia s example. For persons with disabilities, this document is available in large print, Braille, and CD.