moncblanc Are Australia’s gun laws the solution for the US
“We have an opportunity in this country not to go down the American path.”
Those were the words of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard before he radically changed Australia’s gun laws and many believe rid the country of gun violence on a large scale.
Now the US is reeling from another mass shooting its deadliest ever in Las Vegas. A year after 49 people were shot dead in an Orlando nightclub, America continues to find itself far down that violent path.
But could it still change course the way Australia did?
In April 1996, 35 people were killed by a gunman, Martin Bryant, wielding semi automatic weapons at a former prison colony and tourist attraction in Tasmania.
The event appalled and galvanised the nation, helping to push Australia to enact some of the most comprehensive firearm laws in the world.
Former US President Barack Obama often pointed to Australia as an example for the US to follow.
“When Australia had a mass killing I think it was in Tasmania about 25 years ago, 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,” he said in 2015.
So what exactly did Australia do, how did it work, and could it work in the US?
Drop in shootingsLess than two weeks after the Port Arthur massacre, all six Australian states agreed to enact the same sweeping gun laws banning semi automatic rifles and shotguns weapons that can kill many people quickly.
They also put more hurdles between prospective gun owners and their weapons.
Australia has 28 day waiting periods, thorough background checks, and a requirement to present a “justifiable reason” to own a gun.
Unlike in the US, self protection is not accepted as a justifiable reason to own a gun.
In the 21 years since the laws were passed, about one million semi automatic weapons roughly one third of the country’s firearms were sold back to the government and destroyed, nearly halving the number of gun owning households in Australia.
Although the laws were designed specifically to reduce mass shootings, the rates of homicide and suicide have also come down since 1996.
Philip Alpers, a professor at Sydney School of Public Health, has done studies showing that aside from the victims of the Port Arthur shooting, 69 gun homicides were recorded in 1996 compared with 30 in 2012.
Despite the reduction in incidence though, gun violence has not disappeared in Australia.
Many outlawed firearms have been replaced with legal ones. And nearly 26,000 unregistered guns have been handed back this year in the first national amnesty since the Port Arthur killings.
Guns per capita in Australia and US: 1996 vs nowAustralia
1996: Approximately 17.5 guns per 100 people
2016 (most recent numbers available): About 13.7 guns per 100 people1996: Approximately 91 guns per 100 people
2009 (most recent numbers available): Approximately 101 guns per 100 people
Sources: AIC Australian institute of Criminology, Gun Policy,Small Arms Survey, and US Dept of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Australian firearms rights groups say that the laws go too far and restrict personal freedom.
They argue that gun violence was on a downward trajectory before the 1996 laws were passed, and reject any link between lower incidence of gun deaths and the tighter legislation.
Diana Melham, executive director of the Sporting Shooters Australia Association in New South Wales, argues the 1996 laws fuelled a sense of alienation among gun owners, which, she says “rallied the shooters”.
The organisation, which is the country’s largest gun lobby group, has grown rapidly since 1996 and its numbers are still on the rise.