Could Gun Control In Australia Be An Example For The US?
In light of the recent news coverage of tragic gun crimes in America, it might be time to look to the gun laws in Australia for an example of the successful implementation of gun control laws.
The first hint of bringing in our strict gun laws followed the tragic deaths of 35 people, in an event now known as the Port Arthur Massacre. This was the first time the discourse about gun control was entirely open, even though 112 people had been murdered in 11 separate incidents of mass shootings in the ten years prior to Port Arthur.
The Port Arthur Massacre occurred on April 28, 1996. By May 10, all state representatives had decided on one course of action: restricting gun ownership, and encouraging a country-wide gun buyback scheme that was put in place on October 1. Prior to this, gun laws in Australia had been quite similar to those currently implemented in the US – most citizens, should they choose, were capable of having their own guns for personal use.
After Port Arthur, the then Prime Minister John Howard introduced laws that one article calls “some of the world’s toughest gun laws”. Semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns were among the first guns to be entirely outlawed for regular citizens (that is, not military or police personnel). This led to the removal of up to 700,000 guns via the buyback scheme. This almost immediately led to a sharp decline in gun-related deaths (homicide, suicide and accidental) in the following two years. Five years later, in 2001, gun crime was still significantly lower, making it clear that the dropping rates of gun-related deaths were not just a fleeting trend.
In more recent times, it seems Australia has become an even more safe place to live. In 1991, pre-gun law Australia saw 3.64 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people. Today, this has almost halved to 1.71. For comparison, the current rate in California alone, and solely for homicides, is 3.37 per 100,000 people. Even more shockingly, the rate of fire arm assaults per 100,000 people is 44.78. While Australia does have a smaller population than the US, you can clearly see that gun crimes in America are unacceptably high, and it seems about time to start implementing a solution, like Australia did.
In Australia, in order to own or purchase any kind of gun, citizens must fit the eligibility criteria. The criteria runs like this: you must not have committed violent offences, been charged with drug misuse, or threatened anyone with violence, have a legitimate reason for use of a gun, and not have had a domestic violence order placed against you in the last five years, pass a gun safety course, and generally prove you are capable of owning a gun without using it for violence. While this clearly cannot stop every single person in Australia that wishes to commit violent crimes from getting hold of a gun, it has been proven to hinder the process. In fact, the process is so intense that it’s stopped most Australians from either trying to, or being able to own a gun – only 6% of the entire country possesses a registered handgun.
But what about hunting? One huge argument for the continued lax gun laws in the US is that there is a prevalent hunting culture – unlike, say, the UK, or any European countries that might prove to be good examples of gun laws. But in Australia, hunting is just as much a part of the culture as it is in America. In fact, when applying for a gun, you must provide a legitimate reason to be in possession of a gun, and hunting is one of the most frequently listed reasons. However, hunting in Australia has evolved to absorb more of its traditional, cultural roots. People who live on the mainland have taken the strict gun laws as an opportunity to hone skills they would not otherwise have made use of. Even hunters that do own guns have turned to the traditional bows as this appreciation for history grow more popular. I personally know a handful of people who have been able to start up their own business making and selling bows. Fishing is also on the rise – almost everyone I know has gone fishing at least a dozen times in their lives off our coast. Guns are not the be all and end all of hunting – and without them publicly and widely available, our hunting culture is still thriving in an even more meaningful and traditional way than before. It’s just that the weapons being used are far less dangerous than firearms, and require far more skill.
Another big reason people use against outlawing recreational and casual gun ownership is that civilians with guns could protect themselves from criminals with guns – but as we saw in the recent, and horribly tragic Empire State Shooting, this isn’t quite so. The police who shot the perpetrator dead also accidentally shot 9 bystanders in the process of fatally wounding him. In fact, a study by the Times found that police officers only shoot accurately 34% of the time. If that is the accuracy rate of someone who has been heavily trained, and professionally uses these weapons on a daily basis, then how badly would a panicked, scared civilian shoot in a potentially dark or already chaotic setting? How many people need to be wounded or kills in shootings like this before we realise that we can’t trust people with guns? A potential solution to this is to use the same method as Australia’s – mandatory gun training preceding gun ownership. It is the only way to ensure that those citizens who pass the training and do possess guns are capable of shooting with any semblance of accuracy, especially if the situation could put other people in danger.
Following the recent spate of shootings, it might be time for US to turn to other countries as examples of weapon regulations. And guns are just that – weapons. They are capable of killing and injuring people. If firearms aren’t as necessary for hunting or citizen protection as once thought, restrictive gun laws means hundreds of potential lives saved every years. Nothing can fix the injustices previously committed with guns, but as you can see in Australia’s example, it’s possible to prevent further violence.
I can’t remember the last time I heard about someone in my state or town being the victim of gun violence, and it’s been an equally long time since I, personally, have had to fear being injured, or killed by a gun.
What are your thoughts on gun ownership and gun laws in your country? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
Written by Jessica Bagnall
Jessica is a student from Brisbane, Australia and Feminspire staff contributor
Opinions stated in our editorials do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Feminspire and its staff as a whole, but instead reflect the opinions of the writer.