Following the recent mass shooting at Thousand Creeks that killed twelve people, Australia has been cited as a model for gun control once again by the media as a way to end mass public shootings. After a mass public shooting in Australia known as the “Port Arthur Massacre,” their 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% (though many pundits give the impression that all guns in Australia were banned). There are actually more guns total in Australia today than before the gun buyback scheme, albeit fewer on a per capita basis.
Right off the bat, it must be pointed out that nothing implemented by Australia’s ambitious gun control measures could’ve prevented the Thousand Creeks shooting, as it was carried out with a handgun (which are not banned in Australia).
In fact, in America, 60% of mass public shootings are carried out solely with handguns (while only 10% are committed solely with rifles). Contrary to what some in the media seem to imply, mass public shootings don’t exist only because of the existence of “assault rifles.”
That said, it’s worth addressing two main claims; that Australia effectively got rid of mass shootings thanks to their buyback scheme, and that gun violence decreased greatly.
The Truth About Australian Mass Shootings
The case for Australian gun control is simple; In the 18 years prior to the NFA (1979-1996), there were 13 fatal mass shootings in Australia. And in the 18 years after? Zero.
As you can see in the chart below however, the cluster of mass shootings in 1979-1996 was something of a rarity. In fact, until 1979, the country essentially went the entire 20th century without a single mass shooting before any significant change to their gun control laws were made.
The smoking gun (pun always intended) proving that Australia’s disappearance in mass shooting isn’t due to gun control is that most of Australia’s mass public shootings were committed with guns not banned by the NFA and are still legal. A study by criminologist Gary Kleck (source: page 18) found that just two of Australia’s mass shootings in the eighteen years preceding the NFA were committed by firearms banned by the NFA. So in other words, there are no laws in effect that could possibly have prevented all but two of Australia’s mass shooting from happening again.
Non-Gun Mass Killings Increased
According to the aforementioned Gary Kleck study, mass murder by other means (knives, fire, car attack, etc) where five or more were killed increased from 0 incidents in the 18 years before the NFA to six in the years following until 2017 (source: page 25).
***The 2018 mass killing in the chart is a mass shooting, but it was a familicide, not a mass public shooting.
Indeed, there’s been no significant change in both the frequency of mass murders and deaths from mass murders in Australia since the NFA.
Did Gun Violence Decline in Australia?
Gun violence fell like a rock in Australia following gun control (by roughly half in the two decades following it) – and it also happened to fall like a rock in America too. Everything is relative, and Australia’s gun violence decline post-gun control occurred at a time when crime was declining globally.
A 2016 American Medical Association study examined trends in firearm homicides and suicides before and after the adoption of gun control in Australia from the 1996 NFA, and found no evidence of a statistically significant effect of gun control on the pre-existing downward trend of the firearm homicide rate.
Over a similar time period, (1993-2014), gun homicides in America were cut by more than half. Keep in mind that guns per capita increased by about 50% in America over this period. The overall homicide rate actually fell faster in America than in Australia.
Australia’s Ambassador: “Australian Gun Laws Cannot Save America”
Australian ambassador to the U.S., Joe Hockey helped craft the NFA while he served in parliament, but doesn’t believe similar legislation would be a remedy for the U.S.. In his words:
Australia and the United States are completely different situations, and it goes back to each of our foundings. America was born from a culture of self-defense. Australia was born from a culture of ‘the government will protect me.’ Australia wasn’t born as a result of a brutal war. We weren’t invaded. We weren’t attacked. We weren’t occupied. That makes an incredible difference, even today.
Hockey believes in Australian gun control (and extolls its mythical virtues), but doesn’t believe it would be culturally possible to implement in America.
Not only would it be culturally impossible to implement – it wouldn’t even work either.