How Australia Tackled Gun Violence and Reduced Mass Shootings

A gun-owner and lifetime member of the NRA and I are trying to engage in rational dialogue about policies that might reduce gun violence in America.

He says background checks and waiting periods haven’t resulted in any changes in homicide rates in states where they have been enacted. I reply that such regulations could indeed have prevented deaths without necessarily showing a change in homicide rates.

He says new gun laws won’t prevent all gun-related deaths. I reply that of course they won’t. That’s an absurdity. Like arguing that, “see, we enacted seat belt laws, and we still have car deaths.” Illogical. Seat belts clearly reduce injuries and increase safety.
I point out that gun laws worked in Australia, a country with a lot in common with America — diverse immigrant histories, large frontiers, rebellious populations of rugged individualists (Australia as a British colony was initially for people who ran afoul of laws in the mother country). And countries where hunting and competition shooting are popular sports.
Gun laws enacted in 1996 in Australia have substantially reduced mass shootings. By President Obama’s estimate, there have been no mass shootings in Australia in 19 years. While one can quibble with the definition of mass shooting, there is no dispute that mass shootings are fewer. And according to several studies reported by CNN, “in the years after the Port Arthur massacre, the risk of dying by gunshot in Australia fell by more than 50% — and stayed there.” A buy-back program led to a dramatic drop in firearm suicide rates,
My gun-loving friend responds:

“I wonder how many Americans are migrating to Australia compared to the Aussies who are migrating to the US?” he asks. Then, in typical display of American ethnocentrism and ignorance about the world, he asserted that Aussies are not a free and independent country, but still under the thumb of the British.

 I reply that Australia has one of the fastest-growing populations in the developed world. Its population is still growing faster than the US population, despite recession. They became a separate nation from Britain in 1901, and developed a separate foreign policy starting in the 1930s. They are certainly a free country by Western standards.
Some Australians say that Americans seem to value human life less than they do. The convenience of a minority of fanatical gun owners is more important in the US than common sense laws that have reduced gun violence.

After a Port Arthur massacre shocked and horrified Australians, in just 12 days the government proposed and passed the National Firearms Agreement and Buyback Program.
The new gun laws included a ban on many types of semi-automatic, self-loading rifles and shotguns. Each gun required a separate permit with a 28-day waiting period, and Australia created a national firearms registration system. Guns could only be sold by licensed firearms dealers, and limits were placed on the amount of ammunition that could be sold.
Firearm owners had to be 18, complete a safety course, and have a “genuine reason” for owning a gun, such as sport shooting, hunting, or occupational requirements (“personal protection” did not count as a legitimate reason).
Licenses expired every five years, and could be revoked if police found “reliable evidence of a mental or physical condition which would render the applicant unsuitable for owning, possessing or using a firearm.”
The new laws also included a national gun-buyback program for newly prohibited weapons. The program cost $230 million, which was raised through a small health-insurance tax increase, and ultimately more than 700,000 firearms were purchased by the government or voluntarily handed in. Some firearms weren’t turned in, and in 2012 an estimated 260,000 illegal guns were still in circulation.

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