Did Gun Control Really Eliminate Mass Shootings in Australia?

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After every mass public shooting, there’s at least one pundit citing Australia as proof that gun control works. The narrative is relatively simple; Australia had a mass public shooting, passed gun control (unlike us silly Americans, supposedly beholden to the gun lobby), got rid of all the guns, and then never had a mass public shooting again.

The shooting in question is the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, in which a gunman killed 35 with a semi-automatic rifle, leading to sweeping gun control legislation that year.

Australia’s national government introduced a mandatory buyback program which forced gun owners to sell certain firearms (mainly semi-automatic rifles and pump action shotguns) to the state, who promptly destroyed them. This program, the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), resulted in the stock of civilian firearms in the country being reduced by approximately 15-20%.

So, did it end mass shootings?

“In the 18 years prior, 1979-1996, there were 13 fatal mass shootings [in Australia],” ABC News tells us.  And since then? Zero, we’re told.

It’s easy to see why this is such a convincing argument, but one needs to realize that Australia went nearly their entire history without mass public shootings – until the 1979-1996 period. Just took a look at the chart below:


Note: Edits made to original chart for accuracy

If we were to begin our timeframe in the 20th century, then there’s also a 70 year period with no mass public shootings, before gun control measures were implemented.

With that in mind – could the drop in mass shootings simply be a return to normal? There are a number of reasons why gun control simply can’t be responsible for the drop-off in mass shootings.

Such as the fact that….

Australia has more guns in circulation today than before the gun buyback.

While Australia’s gun buyback resulted in the destruction of 650,000 guns, they’ve been more than replaced. The estimates for total gun ownership in Australia are as follows:

1988 – 3.5 million

1996 – 3.2 million

1997 – 2.5 million

2005 – 3.05 million

2015 – 3.8 million

One estimate has ownership as high at 4.5 million.

While a fewer percentage of the public owns guns than before the massacre, there are still more guns. One may argue that the nature of firearms is different however, as rifle ownership has been restricted to single-shot rifles only, but handguns remain legal. In America, 60 percent of mass public shootings are carried out with handguns alone, and prior to the Port Arthur massacre, the worst mass shooting in Australia was carried out with a bolt action rifle. Six of Australia’s 13 mass public shootings were actually “spree shootings” (where the perpetrator shoots their multiple victims over an extended period of time) which can be (and most were) carried out with single shot weapons.

Furthermore, only two of the seven non-spree shootings were known to have been committed with the types of guns that were later banned by the NFA.

It is thus impossible to attribute the decline in mass shootings to the NFA, given that the majority those massacres were carried out with firearms that were never banned in Australia.

And lastly….

Mass Murder Still Exists… Even if Not With Guns

Mass murder by other means (knives, fire, car attack, etc) increased, from 0 incidents in the 18 years before the ban, to 6 in the years after it.

Yet another reminder that murder predates the invention of the firearm.

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