Homicides Down after Tougher Gun Laws Adopted Abroad

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LOS ANGELES - Twelve days after the worst mass murder in Australian history, when 35 people were shot to death at Tasmania state's Port Arthur tourist mecca in 1996, the government issued sweeping reforms of the country's gun laws. There hasn't been a mass shooting since, and suicides, deaths by firearms and robberies at gunpoint have plummeted.

The results of toughened gun rules in Britain after the massacre in the Scottish town of Dunblane that same year weren't so immediate or impressive. Gun crimes continued to rise until 2003, and despite a steady downturn since then, a dozen people were killed two years ago in Cumbria by a man using legally registered weapons.

Mass murders by gun-wielding maniacs aren't unique to the United States, although crime statistics show the tragedies to be far more prevalent in a nation that gained its independence by musket and proudly brandishes a constitutional guarantee of a right to bear arms. As the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence attests on its website, in a single year guns killed 17 in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in Britain, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada and 9,484 in the United States.

"We are the only developed nation in the world that allows people such easy access to even the most dangerous weapons," said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor and author of "Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America."

"There are other countries where you can own an assault rifle, such as Switzerland, but they impose strict laws on who can have them and when they can carry them."

Even idyllic Switzerland hasn't been immune from mass-casualty gun violence. In 2001, a disgruntled public official in the northern city of Zug killed 14 people at the regional parliament before taking his own life. Swiss voters last year defeated a referendum that would have required all weapons registered to members of its citizen militia to be secured in military depots.

Most foreign countries that have endured gun violence have reacted with tighter restrictions on which weapons can be privately owned, who can obtain them, how they can be licensed and stored, and what penalties are imposed on violators. But a review of mass killings abroad over the last two decades reveals a contradictory picture of the effectiveness of strict controls in an age of Internet-based arms trading and global criminal networks.

Norway, the scene last year of the deadliest modern massacre by a single gunman, has some of the toughest restrictions on gun ownership in the developed world. Yet Anders Behring Breivik managed to obtain an assault rifle, a high-powered handgun and chemicals used to make a diversionary explosion at the start of his killing rampage that left 77 dead. …