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When guns and gun control coexist: the Australian case

By Marcie Young - posted Thursday, 4 November 2021

After the shocking tragedy in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parklands Florida there were calls for the USA to follow Australia's footsteps with stricter gun laws. While I feel fortunate to be living in a country where I can carry my gun with me at all times, there is a lot about gun ownership that is still unknown. Does it affect the way someone uses firearms and responds to gun violence? Would Australian gun laws really make a difference in the US?"

Among other advanced democracies, Australia's strict gun laws and zero tolerance for handgun ownership make for an interesting case, which I decided to explore in more detail.


The turning point of Australia's modern gun regulations dates back to the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, which cost the lives of 35 people as a result of a rifle rampage orchestrated by a gunman, Martin Bryant. It was considered the worst mass shooting in the history of the nation, prompting the national government to implement immediate changes.


Commemorative plaque honoring the 35 people murdered during the Port Arthur Massacre [Source: WikiMedia]

Contrary to the U.S., Australia has passed severe legislation to decrease the number of firearms in circulation for the past two decades, which slowly made gun deaths extremely rare. One of the latest policies is the permanent gun amnesty program implemented in July 2021, where citizens had the opportunity to surrender unregistered firearms anonymously at police stations.

As a former frontier country, Australia boasts a well-established gun culture.

Australian Soldier on active duty in Borneo during the 1963-65 Indonesia Confrontation [Source: Wikimedia]


Before the fateful event that killed 35 people in the historic site of Port Arthur, Tasmania, guns were mainly used in sports, farming, or recreational hunting. Although each state had its own laws, all jurisdictions limited weapons to security guards and pistol club members, and handguns had to be registered with police before ownership. Because of this restrictive approach, only 5% of the Australian population owned handguns. Yet, things were about to change.

How gun laws changed Australia

The Port Arthur massacre has strongly impacted the country's gun legislation, resulting in the most comprehensive set of firearm laws ever enacted by a nation. After only 12 days of deliberation, all six Australian states agreed to ban semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, considered the deadliest weapons among all categories, by enacting the National Firearms Agreement (NFA). The new law restricted gun registration and licensing and ordered a gun withdrawal out of public circulation. Around 650,000 assault weapons were collected and bought back.

Aside from the main requirements, the new laws also required licensees to take a firearm safety course and demonstrate a "justifiable reason" to own a particular type of gun. While each category of guns required different licenses, all applicants had to undergo a thorough police background check and follow a mandatory 30-day cooling-off period for all license applications. Unlike in the US, self-defense is not enough to justify a person owning a firearm in Australia.

Several studies have examined the effect of removing so many weapons from communities in such a short time, finding that the implementation of the NFA resulted in a reduction of more than 50 percent in the number of gunshot victims. Except for one severe mass shooting that occurred in 2018, since Port Arthur homicides, suicides, and mass killings became less common. While people are still privately owning firearms, interestingly, gun deaths have significantly gone down.

Is the US fit for the Australian approach to guns?

Many gun control advocates claim that the United States should institute tighter restrictions to curb gun violence like in Australia. But is that all that is needed? In the United States, the culture of gun ownership is deeply rooted in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, just like all the other values that make America a great nation.

The frequent mass shootings have stirred many debates over gun control in the United States but never led to drastic changes in the country's legal system. According to the Switzerland-based Small Arms survey, despite representing a small percentage of the world's population, civilian-owned guns represent 46% of the American country as of 2018, when the survey was carried out. Because of their painful experience in Port Arthur in 1996, Australians understand how Americans felt after the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Connecticut on December 14, 2012.

So could the "Australian way" work in the US? Probably not – and for a good reason. As of today, Australia has the tightest gun control policies in the Pacific, and although the 1996 laws were specifically designed to only reduce mass shootings, the rates of homicide and suicide have decreased as well. On the other hand, there are no laws in the US that ban military-style .50 caliber rifles, handguns, or semiautomatic assault weapons. While this may upset many gun control advocates, it is evident that weapons cannot be completely eradicated.

Gun deaths in the USA versus Australia; Since the introduction of strict gun legislation in the latter in 1996, deaths caused by guns have reduced significantly. [Source: Wikimedia]

The culture of America's Second Amendment right to bear arms does not exist in Australia, which may explain why gun deaths have so sharply decreased despite people still owning their weapons. The efficiency of government action should also be considered. In 1996, all six Australian states took only 12 days to agree to pass strict gun control legislation. As for the U.S., it is hard to imagine all 50 states ever agree in such a short period.

To conclude, while the United States and Australia have a similar political system, the way the two countries regulate the use of firearms is very different. In Australia, there is simply no correlation between the citizen and the gun, whereas in the US firearms are part of a citizen's right and freedom. For this reason, it is unlikely that the United States may replicate the Australian system. Nevertheless, the debate over gun ownership remains an open door, and it will be interesting to see if these two powerful countries will ever resemble one another in their battle against guns.

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About the Author

Marcie Young is a mom, wife, and pro-guns writer who lives in Tolleson, Arizona where the crime rate has been higher than almost 99% of American cities. A horrible personal experience made her realise the importance of gun ownership and self-defense. Marcie blogs at Marcie Young and you can follow her on Twitter @marcieyoungaz.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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