Could the US Learn from Australia's Gun-Control Laws?

By Clark, Helen | The Christian Science Monitor, December 24, 2012 | Go to article overview

Could the US Learn from Australia's Gun-Control Laws?


Clark, Helen, The Christian Science Monitor


Almost two weeks after a shooting spree stunned Australia in 1996, leaving 35 people dead at the Port Arthur tourist spot in Tasmania, the government issued sweeping reforms of the countrys gun laws. There hasnt been a mass shooting since. Now, after the recent shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, Australias National Firearm Agreement (NFA), which saw hundreds of thousands of automatic and semi-automatic weapons bought back then destroyed, is being examined as a possible example for the US, to mixed reaction in Australia.

Australians have been following the Connecticut tragedy closely, and many say the US solution lies in following Australias path, or at least reforming current laws. But a small but vocal number of Australias gun supporters are urging caution.

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Just 12 days after the 1996 shooting in Port Arthur, then-Prime Minister John Howard a conservative who had just been elected with the help of gun owners pushed through not only new gun control laws, but also the most ambitious gun buyback program Australia had ever seen. Some 650,000 automatic and semi-automatic rifles were handed in and destroyed under the program. Though gun-related deaths did not suddenly end in Australia, gun-related homicides dropped 59 percent between 1995 and 2006, with no corresponding increase in non- firearm-related homicides. Suicides by gun plummeted by 65 percent, and robberies at gunpoint also dropped significantly. Many said there was a close correlation between the sharp declines and the buyback program.

A paper for the American Law and Economics Review by Andrew Leigh of the Australian National University and Christine Neill of the Wilfrid Laurier University reports that the buyback led to a drop in the rearm suicide rates of almost 80 percent, "with no significant eect on non-rearm death rates. The eect on rearm homicides is of similar magnitude but is less precise.

Perhaps the most convincing statistic for many, though, is that in the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there were 11 mass shootings in the country. Since the new law, there hasnt been one shooting spree. In the wake of the shooting, polls indicated that up to 85 percent of Australians supported the measures taken by the government.

In the wake of the Newtown shooting, several Australian politicians are now suggesting that the US adopt Australias gun laws. I implore you to look at our experience, Labor Member of Parliament Kelvin Thomson wrote in an open letter to US Congress that he also posted on his official website. …

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