Other Countries Figured Out How to Reduce Gun MassacresBreaking News
tags: guns, gun control, mass shootings, Australia
On April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a disturbed twenty-eight-year-old Australian who had been bullied at school, walked into a café in the city of Port Arthur, a former convict settlement in the state of Tasmania that is now a unesco World Heritage Site. He pulled a Colt AR-15 rifle from his duffelbag and started shooting. After killing more than twenty people in the café and in an adjacent gift shop, he reloaded his weapon and roamed around the site shooting at random. A carjacking and a hostage negotiation followed. By the time he was arrested, he had killed thirty-five people and wounded another twenty-three.
Australia, like the United States, is a federalized former British colony that has long styled itself as a rugged, individualistic nation. Hunting and shooting are popular there. Unlike the U.S., though, Australia has a political system that is responsive to popular opinion. Its legislatures do not have filibuster-like rules that allow a minority of lawmakers to block legislation. Within two weeks of the Port Arthur massacre, the worst in modern Australian history, governments at the federal and state levels had agreed to ban semi-automatic and pump-action firearms. The federal government also introduced several other measures, including a buyback scheme to compensate owners of the newly banned firearms, a centralized registry of gun owners, and a public-education campaign about the new laws.
Just over a year ago, Australia marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the transformation brought about by the Port Arthur rampage. In a country of roughly twenty-seven million people, there are still a lot of guns in private hands—in 2020, there were an estimated 3.5 million. But the number of mass shootings, defined as attacks in which at least four people are killed, has declined precipitously. In the decade before Port Arthur, there had been eleven such incidents. In the quarter century since, there have been three, the worst of which involved a farmer in Western Australia killing six family members.
It should be noted that Australia, like the U.S., has a strong gun lobby, which, until 1996, had successfully frustrated efforts to tighten gun laws there. When the conservative Prime Minister at the time, John Howard, pushed through the ban on certain firearms, gun owners were so angry that he wore a bullet-proof vest when he addressed a group of them. But the vast majority of Aussies backed Howard. After Port Arthur, Australia was “united in horror and grief, and there was a very strong level of support for what we had to do,” Howard recalled to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last year. “The goal was to prohibit possession of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and that’s been achieved. The country is a much safer place.”