The author of a report on Australia’s sweeping gun reform program that was instituted after a mass killing in 1996 says the United States would have many fewer deaths by dramatically decreasing the number of households with guns, the Sydney Morning-Herald reported.
The National Firearms Agreement — reached among the political parties less than two weeks after a gunman killed 35 people and injured 23 at a Tasmanian seaside resort — cut firearm homicide by 59% over the next two decades and firearms suicide by 74%, the report showed.
The law banned semiautomatic and automatic rifles and shotguns and put in place a mandatory buy-back program for newly banned weapons.
The buyback led to the destruction of 650,000 guns, the Sunshine Coast Daily reported.
In August, following the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who instituted the NFA, wrote in the Melbourne daily The Age that the United States should follow in Australia’s footsteps.
“Australia is a safer country as a result of what was done in 1996,” he wrote. “It will be the continuing responsibility of current and future federal and state governments to ensure the effectiveness of those anti-gun laws is never weakened. The U.S. is a country for which I have much affection. There are many American traits which we Australians could well emulate to our great benefit. But when it comes to guns we have been right to take a radically different path.”
Andrew Leigh, as an academic at the Australian National University, published research in 2010 on the NFA and found that the gun buyback program lowered the proportion of Australian homes with guns from 15% to 8%.
”Our gun buyback took about a fifth of our guns out of circulation but it approximately halved the number of gun-owning households,” Leigh, who is also a Labor party MP, said, the Morning-Herald reported. ‘If the U.S. could dramatically decrease the number of households with guns, it would have many fewer deaths.”
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A 2011 study by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center of the Australian program noted that while 13 gun massacres (involving the death of 4 or more people at one time) occurred in Australia in the 18 years before the NFA, resulting in more than one hundred deaths, there had been no massacres since.
Leigh said that he does not foresee any retreat from the policy by major parties, although the Australian Party has vowed to fight for shooter’s rights if it gains seats in the Senate next year.
Australian native Rupert Murdoch, who is now a U.S. citizen, has strongly echoed the calls for new restrictions on automatic weapons, citing the Australian example.
After the Sandy Hook massacre on Friday, Murdoch wrote on Twitter: ”Terrible news today. When will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons? As in Oz after similar tragedy.”
That, says the Morning Herald, prompted a none-too-subtle comment from Australian Liberal Malcolm Turnbull about Murdoch’s U.S. cable network. “I suspect they will find the courage when Fox News enthusiastically campaigns for it.”
In his 2010 report, Leigh wrote that there were several important factors in assessing the extent to which the result of the Australian gun buyback program could be extrapolated to other countries.
- Australian borders are more easily controlled than in countries that have land borders;
- Australia’s government in general and its policing and customs services in particular are highly organized and effective;
- The NFA had an extremely high degree of political support and was quite competently executed;
- The buyback was accompanied by a uniform national system for licensing and registration of firearms.
President Obama on Wednesday tapped Vice President Biden to lead an administration-wide effort looking at gun control and other measures in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting last week.
“The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing,” Obama said.
The move marks the first concrete step by the White House toward crafting new firearms restrictions. The president did not announce any major policy decisions on Wednesday, but said the task force of Cabinet officials and outside organizations led by Biden would submit legislative proposals to him no later than January.
Some lawmakers, in the wake of the tragedy, have called for a broad-based response, looking at everything from mental health to school security to American culture. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., in a call soon joined by others, proposed a national commission examining the entertainment industry and particularly video games.
Obama and top administration officials suggest the response to the Newtown, Conn., mass murder could include a range of recommendations. But the focus, given the debate that has accelerated on Capitol Hill in recent days, is likely to be gun control.
The president said Wednesday that he chose Biden to lead the task force in part because of his role in crafting the 1994 assault-weapons ban. Obama spoke favorably of the ban, as well as proposals to strengthen background checks and ban high-capacity magazines. The president tried to walk a line between assuring Americans that gun rights would largely be protected, while making the case for some new restrictions.
“The fact is the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible,” he said. “But you know what — I am also betting that the majority, the vast majority of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war.”
Obama said he would use “all the powers” of his office to prevent more tragedies. “We won’t prevent them all, but that can’t be an excuse not to try,” he said.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the administration will craft proposals for Congress to consider over the next few weeks. He said a “strong” Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also important.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that Obama is “actively supportive” of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s, D-Calif., push to bring back the assault-weapons ban. He also said the president supports closing the so-called gun show loophole.
Gun-rights advocates have started to push back on the swift call for more firearms regulation. The National Rifle Association, after remaining silent in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, released its first — albeit brief — statement on Tuesday, and announced it would be holding a major press conference on Friday.
The White House sees some urgency in formulating a policy response to the shooting, even as Obama and his top aides are consumed with averting the looming fiscal crisis before tax hikes and spending cuts take effect in January.
As many pro-gun lawmakers have called for a greater focus on mental health issues and the impact of violent entertainment, aides say Obama also prefers a holistic approach.
“It’s a complex problem that requires more than one solution,” Carney said Tuesday. “It calls for not only re-examining our gun laws and how well we enforce them, but also for engaging mental health professionals, law-enforcement officials, educators, parents and communities to find those solutions.”
Still, much of the immediate focus after the shooting is on gun control, an issue that has been dormant in Washington for years. Obama expended little political capital on gun issues during his first term, despite several mass shootings, including a movie theater attack in Aurora, Colorado, in the midst of this year’s presidential campaign.
The White House has begun to signal that Obama may be more proactive on gun issues following the murders of the elementary school youngsters, ages 6 and 7.
The policy process Obama announced Wednesday was expected to include input from the departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services. The heads of those agencies met with Obama at the White House on Monday.