Australia's gun controls a political template for the U.S.

CANBERRA Wed Apr 3, 2013 7:04pm EDT

Mick Roelandts, firearms reform project manager for the New South Wales Police, looks at a pile of about 4,500 prohibited firearms in Sydney that have been handed in over the past month under the Australian government's buy-back scheme July 28. REUTERS/David Gray

Mick Roelandts, firearms reform project manager for the New South Wales Police, looks at a pile of about 4,500 prohibited firearms in Sydney that have been handed in over the past month under the Australian government's buy-back scheme July 28.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray

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CANBERRA (Reuters) - Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard wore a bullet proof vest under his suit when he addressed an angry crowd of gun owners in 1996, telling them he was going to ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons for the safety of all Australians.

At other rallies, effigies of his deputy prime minister Tim Fischer were hanged by opponents of gun control.

The battle for gun control in Australia, after the country's worst massacre in which 35 people were shot dead, was risky both personally and politically. Howard alienated a large part of his conservative, rural base and was almost thrown from office.

But the gun reforms made Australia a safer place, with fewer homicides and suicides, and both Howard and Fischer are now urging U.S. President Barack Obama to take his gun control campaign to the people, just as they did, to gain a consensus.

"I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn't be easy," Howard wrote in the New York Times earlier this year.

"Penalizing decent, law-abiding citizens because of the criminal behavior of others seemed unfair...I understood their misgivings. Yet I felt there was no alternative," wrote Howard, adding he hoped his example would contribute constructively to the U.S. gun debate.

Obama wants to ban military assault rifles and high capacity ammunition clips after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, in December. But his plans appear to be losing momentum ahead of debate in the U.S. Senate this month.

BRUTAL GUN POLITICS

Six weeks after Howard won office in 1996, Martin Bryant, a psychologically disturbed man, used semi-automatic rifles to kill 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

Fischer, a Vietnam war veteran, farmer and gun owner, said the politics of gun control in Australia were brutal.

"It was a battle royal, and John Howard laid down a template that was worth defending and taking to the public square, taking to the people, and shifting the tectonic plates in the process. And the result ... 200 less coffins a year on a conservative estimate," Fischer told Reuters.

"It was the right thing to do, but people had to be persuaded of it. And this is why our friends in the United States ... should now consider seriously taking it in a big way to the public square."

In Australia, gun owners were compensated when they handed in previously legal weapons. Almost 700,000 guns were destroyed, halving the number of homes with a gun. That would be equal to taking 40 million guns out of action in the United States.

But the reforms angered many constituents of Fischer's rural-based National Party, who vented their anger two years later at the ballot box. The pro-gun One Nation party won almost one million votes and the government narrowly avoided defeat.

Australia had 13 gun massacres in the 18 years before the 1996 gun reforms, but has not suffered any mass shootings since.

Studies found a marked drop in gun-related homicides, down 59 percent, and a dramatic 65 percent drop in the rate of gun-related suicides, in the 10 years after the weapons crackdown.

But some Australian gun owners, like hunter Stephen O'Donnell, still oppose Howard's gun control laws, arguing they have simply created paperwork not made Australia safer.

O'Donnell, a license kangaroo shooter, can only use a single shell, bolt-action rifle, limiting his ability to control mobs of kangaroos and feral pests which can wreak havoc on farms.

"If I could have a semi-automatic, that would be a much more efficient way of doing it. You could take multiple targets a lot quicker," he said.

(Editing by Robert Birsel and Michael Perry)

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Comments (90)
tkboxer wrote:
Did Australia have a Second Amendment in their Constitution?
The U.S. does.

Apr 03, 2013 9:00am EDT  --  Report as abuse
MetalHead8 wrote:
This article didn’t show what happened after the gun ban

It is a common fantasy that gun bans make society safer. In 2002 — five years after enacting its gun ban — the Australian Bureau of Criminology acknowledged there is no correlation between gun control and the use of firearms in violent crime. In fact, the percent of murders committed with a firearm was the highest it had ever been in 2006 (16.3 percent), says the D.C. Examiner.

Even Australia’s Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research acknowledges that the gun ban had no significant impact on the amount of gun-involved crime:
•In 2006, assault rose 49.2 percent and robbery 6.2 percent.
•Sexual assault — Australia’s equivalent term for rape — increased 29.9 percent.
•Overall, Australia’s violent crime rate rose 42.2 percent.

Moreover, Australia and the United States — where no gun-ban exists — both experienced similar decreases in murder rates:
•Between 1995 and 2007, Australia saw a 31.9 percent decrease; without a gun ban, America’s rate dropped 31.7 percent.
•During the same time period, all other violent crime indices increased in Australia: assault rose 49.2 percent and robbery 6.2 percent.
•Sexual assault — Australia’s equivalent term for rape — increased 29.9 percent.
•Overall, Australia’s violent crime rate rose 42.2 percent.
•At the same time, U.S. violent crime decreased 31.8 percent: rape dropped 19.2 percent; robbery decreased 33.2 percent; aggravated assault dropped 32.2 percent.
•Australian women are now raped over three times as often as American women.

While this doesn’t prove that more guns would impact crime rates, it does prove that gun control is a flawed policy. Furthermore, this highlights the most important point: gun banners promote failed policy regardless of the consequences to the people who must live with them, says the Examiner.

Source: Howard Nemerov, “Australia experiencing more violent crime despite gun ban,” Free Republic, April 9, 2009.

Apr 03, 2013 9:21am EDT  --  Report as abuse
COindependent wrote:
Australia has a total population of 22 million. Like Canada (35 million) it is much easier to implement and enforce gun laws when you have a small population concentrated in 3-4 population centers. Even in New York, Chicago and D.C. with some of the most restrictive firearm laws in the country gun crimes remain significant; reinforcing the fact that criminals do not follow the laws. (I guess that is why they are “criminals”.)

It’s interesting to see that our President, the Dems in Congress, and our Legislature/Governor in Colorado, while promoting stricter gun laws, have not proposed A SINGLE BILL to increase the penalties for commission of a crime while possessing a firearm. Again, the law-abiding citizens constitutional rights are infringed upon while the criminal element gets a(nother) pass.

The concept of linking suicides to guns is a straw man argument–while the suicides in Australia committed using a firearm declined by 60% due to firearm restrictions, suicide by hanging doubled–(the reference rates by each means were effectively the same at 5.0 per 100,000 in 1998). Overall suicide rates have declined only slightly over the 1998-2007 period–so any link between restrictions in firearm ownership and suicide rates is not there. Those that are committed to end their life will find a means regardless of the laws.

Apr 03, 2013 9:29am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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