The lost gun rights of Oz

Gun control advocates love Australia.  That country is famous for having surrendered guns and gun rights after the Port Arthur massacre of 1996.  President Obama has spoken longingly about the Aussie solution, though we’re constantly reassured that he’s not coming for our guns.  But how do the claims made about our antipodal sister nation compare with actual data? The usual concerns are suicides and homicides—and in the latter, a subcategory of mass shootings.

Consider suicides first.  Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics do show a decline in the suicide rate among males over the period of 1989 – 2013, while female rates remained unchanged.  This may suggest some effect of changes in gun laws, since men more often use guns to kill themselves than women do, but there are indications that Australian males merely changed from gunshot to hanging, and the suicide rate has been on the increase over the last several years.

Homicides provide even less support for the sweeping changes in gun laws following 1996.  Since 1915, Australian homicides have hovered around two per hundred thousand.  There are fluctuations from year to year, particularly a rise in the three years after Port Arthur, but gun homicides began declining in 1969, and the United States has also seen a drop in rates of homicide and other violent crime that started in the early 1990s.  Causation is difficult to nail down, but our two nations have gone in opposite directions with regard to gun laws and have seen similar changes in crime, suggesting that legislation on firearms is not responsible.

And what about mass shootings specifically?  The gun control headline is correct in saying that there have been none since 1996, but the details aren’t so simple.  Mass shootings are rare events to start with, so it’s difficult to draw definitive conclusions from them, but there is an interesting fact to be noted here.  Since 1996, New Zealand also has had no mass shootings, while that nation adopted none of the gun control measures enacted in Australia.   Again, we have to be careful about asserting causation.  But when once more, two similar nations adopt different policies and achieve the same result, I find this to be suggestive.  I’ll also note that while the recent hostage crisis in a Sydney coffee shop fell short of our FBI’s definition of a mass shooting (at least four dead in a single incident, that crime shows that when someone wishes to make a spectacular attack, a way will be found.

Unlike what gun control advocates wish were true here in America, the changes in gun laws in Australia were much easier to achieve there for a couple of reasons.  In 1996, the percentage of Aussie gun owners was seven percent.  After the measures?  Five percent.   Going after a group of people is less of a challenge when they represent a small proportion of your total population.  In America, estimates vary, but something like a third of us are gun owners.  Coming after us would require a lot more work.  This is especially the case since we have constitutional protections that Australians lack.  Unless the Second Amendment can be repealed or Heller and McDonald can be reversed, guns as an individual right is our law.

The bottom line here is that the knee-jerk reaction to the Port Arthur shooting accomplished very little and that Australia doesn’t offer gun control advocates the proof for their claims that they so urgently desire.  As always, the headline or the sound bite is only the opening bid.  Dig deeper when our rights are at stake.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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