In the wake of the Virginia Beach Shooting, we once again see calls for change in the world of guns. Why that never happens is a different story, but we once again hear a ruckus in favor of adopting the ‘Australian Model.’ 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 skewed around this method of gun reform, and 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.
So What Actually happened in Australia?
After a deadly mass shooting where 36 people were killed, the Australian Prime Minister took action and worked to mandate that all fully and semi-automatic rifles, along with shotguns, would be confiscated and destroyed by the government, and the government would compensate 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.
Impact on Suicide Rates
On the suicide results, real effects coming from the 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.
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?
Impact on Murder Rates
Australia’s Oceanic neighbor, New Zealand, is very similar socioeconomically and did not implement firearm regulations like those of Australia at the time, 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 were declining at a similar rate. After the ban, murders in both countries continued to decline at a similar rate. There has not been a mass shooting in New Zealand since the prohibitive action was taken in Australia. These similarities show that declining rates of gun homicides cannot be attributed 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 is declining at a constant rate.
A 2007 study shows a similar trend.
The American Medical Association found that there was no direct decrease resulting from the 1996 buyback program. A decrease in homicides in Australia cannot be attributed to the Australian program, so we should not weigh it as a viable solution in Australia. How, then, could this be applied to 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 to this 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.
Australian Opinions of Potential US Gun Buyback Program
City Lab interviewed Australian ambassador to the U.S. Joe Hockey, a former Australian politician who was involved 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. We weren’t occupied. 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, and 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 American tragedy.
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Image from The Trace.