US can learn from Australia's gun law

2012-12-20 19:23

Sydney - When Martin Bryant massacred 35 people with semi-automatic weapons at Port Arthur in 1996, then-Australian prime minister John Howard reacted swiftly by pushing for tough new national gun laws.

Such was the shock nationwide that just 12 days later a bipartisan deal was reached for tighter controls - the National Firearms Agreement that banned rapid-fire rifles and shotguns.

Within a year gun licences had been tightened, a weapons buy-back was enacted and an amnesty launched for anyone holding illegal arms, moves that took more than 600 000 guns out of action.

There have been no mass killings since.

Britain went through a similar experience just months before when 16 schoolchildren were slaughtered in the Scottish town of Dunblane, while other nations including Germany and Finland have also experienced mass shootings.

Right-wing extremist Anders Breivik killed 77 people last year in twin attacks, leading to intense soul-searching in Norway.

US President Barack Obama is facing the same dilemma after the horrific Newtown school massacre last week that killed 20 children aged six and seven, and six teachers and caregivers.

While the gun lobby is far more powerful in the US and gun ownership culturally embedded through the constitution, the conservative Howard says now is the time to tackle the politically sensitive issue.

"It will be difficult but it can be done," Howard, who had only been in the job two months when the Port Arthur killings happened, told Sydney's Daily Telegraph this week.

Gun murders

Speaking earlier this year after another US gun massacre, Howard noted: "If I hadn't done something I would have been squandering the moral authority I had as a newly-elected prime minister."

In 2009 in Australia there were 0.1 gun murders per 100 000 people compared to 3.2 per 100 000 in the US, according to the most recent data from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Obama has put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of an inter-agency effort on gun control and mental health, calling for "concrete" proposals within a month.

But he has his work cut out, said Philip Alpers, an analyst on gun violence at the University of Sydney who worked on weapons control in the US for four years, adding that drawing parallels between Australia and US was difficult.

"Culturally we are very different. The automatic Australian reaction after Port Arthur was that we need to pull back on gun ownership - fewer guns are better. Howard had a groundswell of public support on his side," he said.

US reaction

"In the US, reaction over the past few years has increasingly been, more guns make us safer. Guns are confused with freedom and opinion is so polarised that it might be impossible for Obama to do anything."

As a consequence of Howard's actions, Australia now has arguably some of the most restrictive firearms legislation in the world and Gun Control Australia, a voluntary organisation, says the laws have saved many lives.

"Thousands of lives have been saved: why do the gun clubs deny this?" it says on its website.

The Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, which lobbied against the Howard laws, says gun death rates were falling anyway.

It points to an independent report by the Melbourne Institute in 2008 which contradicts claims that fewer guns mean fewer homicides and suicides.


"There is little evidence to suggest that it had any significant effects on firearm homicides and suicides," the Melbourne study concluded, referring to the National Firearms Agreement.

It said gun buybacks appeared to be a logical and sensible policy and helped ease the public's fears.

"[But] the evidence so far suggests that in the Australian context, the high expenditure incurred to fund the 1996 gun buyback has not translated into any tangible reductions in terms of firearm deaths," it said.

Australia currently has some 760 000 licenced shooters, but another 250 000 illegal firearms remain on the streets.

According to the Australian Crime Commission, "most of these firearms have been stolen or were not handed in after the Port Arthur massacre".

  • craig.scheepers.1 - 2012-12-20 19:35

    AUSTRALIA: MORE VIOLENT CRIME DESPITE GUN BAN April 13, 2009 It is a common fantasy that gun bans make society safer. In 2002 -- five years after enacting its gun ban -- the Australian Bureau of Criminology acknowledged there is no correlation between gun control and the use of firearms in violent crime. In fact, the percent of murders committed with a firearm was the highest it had ever been in 2006 (16.3 percent), says the D.C. Examiner. Even Australia's Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research acknowledges that the gun ban had no significant impact on the amount of gun-involved crime: •In 2006, assault rose 49.2 percent and robbery 6.2 percent. •Overall, Australia's violent crime rate rose 42.2 percent. Moreover, Australia and the United States -- where no gun-ban exists -- both experienced similar decreases in murder rates: •Between 1995 and 2007, Australia saw a 31.9 percent decrease; without a gun ban, America's rate dropped 31.7 percent. •During the same time period, all other violent crime indices increased in Australia: assault rose 49.2 percent and robbery 6.2 percent. •Sexual assault -- Australia's equivalent term for rape -- increased 29.9 percent. •Overall, Australia's violent crime rate rose 42.2 percent. •At the same time, U.S. violent crime decreased 31.8 percent: rape dropped 19.2 percent;

      womba.wonder - 2012-12-20 20:09

      Supply the contexts as without it, your copy-and-paste is just shallow propaganda. For instance: "In 2006, assault rose 49.2 percent and robbery 6.2 percent." In Australia every domestic fight is "assault", as is any pub brawl, schoolyard rumble, etc. which the Australian Police are duty-bound to record, even if these petty skirmishes are never taken to court. Australia does not have "sexual assault" as an equivalent of US rape. They have rape, identical to the US law, for rape. "Sexual assault" covers the entire sub-penetration offending spectrum: from non-contact inappropriate verbal advances, to unwanted groping to anything short of full coitus. And Australian police vigorously prosecute these laws. The legal-prosecutorial barrier as to what constitutes the vaguely-defined "violent crime" is set way, way lower in Australia than in the USA. Applying Australian legal standards to the USA would likely see US "violent crime rates" quadruple overnight as Americans can get away with many deeds that would see you convicted in court in Australia. The key statistic remains the gun-death rate. (Not the murder rate, because that includes stabbings, beatings, poisonings etc). "In 2009 in Australia there were 0.1 gun murders per 100 000 people compared to 3.2 per 100 000 in the US, according to the most recent data from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime." That ends the argument.

  • godwin.symons - 2012-12-20 19:56

    These kneejerk reactions by politicians show just how desperate they are to avoid addressing real issues at hand. Instead these parasites will only turn on superficial issues and make them look like highly important things. For Christs sake, there are more people who loose their lives in car accidents, smoking related illnesses, drug abuse and others. I wish the scum would deal with laws concerning those issues. Gun violence is only a small problem blown completely out of proportion by the media and the slimey politicians. Get matters into perspective, God damn it! From Godwin

  • lvhukeya1 - 2012-12-20 20:01

    if it happened in Australia doesn't mean every country must cope what Australia did, after all we need firearms for self defence not to kill innocent people.

  • lvhukeya1 - 2012-12-20 20:02

    if it happened in Australia doesn't mean every country must cope what Australia did, after all we need firearms for self defence not to kill innocent people.

  • ray.molekoa.5 - 2012-12-20 20:11

    In R.S.A the polce will always be there to hire you their service guns , you don't have to own one . So where does it put us in this debate ?

  • didi.schoeman - 2012-12-20 20:22

    Frankly, I think a lot of the problems can be traced back to violent video games and TV programs... It all comes down to how we raise our kids. A gun doesn't fire itself, it requires the action of an individual to load it and pull the trigger. I think the real question that should be asked is why kids are picking up weapons and plan in detail how to commit mass murder. Something has gone terribly wrong in the last 20 years and I don't think you have to look very far to figure out what...

  • hugh.robinson.56 - 2012-12-20 20:37

    @craig.scheepers.1 - good point but die abolisionists will only look at their wants and distort the facts. The gun laws in SA have not help the victim only increased protection for the criminal. Moreover check out the UK'S gun crime over the past 10 years. A country where even carrying a knife is banned where the police are now armed.

  • john.silver.3572846 - 2012-12-20 21:00

    Politicians refuse to admit that you CANNOT legislate against crazy people on shooting sprees. That they are wanting to kill people already tells you the law is not all that important to them. What you CAN do is make Unlicensed guns, drugs + gun, booze + gun, negligence, unlicensed ammo EXTREMELY unpleasant charges to face. That takes care of a lot of the middle market in illegal firearms and "petty" firearms offences.

  • flysouth - 2012-12-21 09:12

    Show me ANY correlation which reduces crime with guns, using the following parameters: 1. the rate of licenced gun ownership by the law-abiding 2. the removal of licenced guns from the law-abiding 3. the rate of crime by criminals with unlicenced guns If you can get any of these to line up in any way, you are a genius! Or perhaps a rabid and psychotic anti-gun person who is quite willing to twist any set of facts to suit their purposes.

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