The Australian Buyback Has Nothing to Offer Us

Mason Mohon | @mohonofficial

In the wake of the Christchurch massacre, we once again see calls for change in the world of guns. We also once again hear a ruckus in favor of adopting the ‘Australian Model’ or Australian buyback system. It seems to be a tried and true example of mass gun reform that has concrete results, right?

Well, not exactly. The facts tend to be inaccurate around this method of gun reform. Whenever that happens, it poses a threat to constructive discussion. To find out what to do about the Australian model of gun reform, we should first see what it actually was, see what the results are, and lastly figure out if it would work in the United States.

The Australian Buyback

So what actually happened in Australia? After a deadly mass shooting where a gunman killed 36 people, the Australian Prime Minister took action. He made it so the government confiscated and destroyed all fully and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. Moreover, the government compensated the people who turned in guns. 650,000 firearms were turned in due to the mandate, and approximately 60,000 firearms were turned in voluntarily. This accounts for about 20% of Australia’s guns.

Now, did it work? After the 1996 buyback programs, murder and suicide rates have decreased, and there has not been a mass shooting since. The world is not that simple, though, and causal links between government programs and concrete results can rarely be proven in a single sentence so we will need to look at the actual statistics and find whether or not there was an actual effect.

An Actual Effect?

On the suicide results, real effects coming from the Australian buyback are in question. Vox’s colorful gun chart flip-book has a few statistics on the subject of guns worldwide, one of which outlines the rates in Australian suicide after 1996.

VoxAustralia-4

The National Review’s Mark Antonio Wright points out the flaw in this graph as an argument:

While the chart does show a steady decline in gun-related suicides, the reduction occurred at the same time as an overall reduction in the Australian suicide rate. What’s more, firearm-related suicides had been declining in Australia for nearly ten years before the 1996 restrictions on gun ownership.

Vox’s own chart does not appear to show a causal link between gun control and a reduction in suicide rates in Australia.

Clearly, the results do not show a causal relationship between the mass confiscation program and a decline in the suicide rate, but what of murders?

New Zealand: The Same Results Without Confiscation

Australia’s Oceanic neighbor, New Zealand, is very similar socioeconomically and did not implement firearm regulations like those of Australia, which makes it a good control variable to compare to Australia when it comes to actual results in shootings. A Justice Policy Journal study showed that there was no substantial statistical difference in shootings between Australia and New Zealand since the program.

Prior to the ban, murders in both countries was declining at a similar rate. After the ban, murders in both countries continued to decline at a similar rate. Before last week, the last mass shooting in New Zealand was before Australia took prohibitive action in 1996. These similarities show that one cannot attribute declining rates of gun homicides to the confiscation program.

The declining gun murder rate prior to the ban is important too. Multiple studies, including the Justice Policy Journal study, show that before and after 1996, Australia’s gun homicide rate was declining at a constant rate.gunchart

A 2007 study shows a similar trend.

Firearm20homicide20per2010000020population201980-2004

The American Medical Association found that there was no direct decrease resulting from the 1996 Australian buyback program. One cannot attribute a decrease in homicides in Australia to the Australian program. So, we should not weigh it as a viable solution in Australia. How, then, could someone apply this to the United States?

The Australian Buyback: Not for the United States

It cannot be, really at all. America and Australia are very different countries. National Review went on to look into how exactly a program even remotely similar would occur in the United States.

…an American mandatory gun-confiscation program — in addition to being unconstitutional — would be extraordinarily coercive, and perhaps even violent.
There is no other way around it: The mandatory confiscation of the American citizenry’s guns would involve tens of thousands of heavily armed federal agents going door-to-door to demand of millions of Americans that they surrender their guns.

City Lab interviewed Australian ambassador to the U.S. Joe Hockey, a former Australian politician who played a role in the 1996 program, and he does not think that the program would be viable at all in the United States:

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…That makes an incredible difference, even today.

But the gun culture is so ingrained in America. I can’t wrap my brain around impulsive buys, no cooling off period, no mental-health checks. I’m stunned there’s not more road rage here given the number of guns.

Australia implemented a mandatory confiscation program in 1996. Clearly, it made no change in the murder and suicide rates in Australia. Thus, it also would not work in the United States. This program is not a viable solution to the mass murder problem that we face, so people need to quit saying “Australia did…” in response to every single tragedy in America and New Zealand. 


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