Gun Control Missed the Mark in Australia

BY: ANDREW SVEDA, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR

Mr. Power’s video on Australian gun control (“Don’t Get Shot in America. Live in Australia!,” The New York Times Opinion Section, Aug. 1) is greatly unsettling as it is misguided in its attempts to draw a correlation between the number of firearms to a nation’s homicide rate by comparing U.S. and Australian statistics in these two fields. If such a relationship was true, why would Switzerland have a lower homicide rate than Germany or Austria or why would Wyoming have a lesser rate of firearms-related murders than states like Connecticut or California, both situations where the former has dramatically higher amounts of gun ownership? What about the fact that U.S. murders are at historic lows despite recent surges in gun sales and concealed-carry permits? The issue of gun violence is much more multifaceted than Power portrays; when reflecting upon these statistics, one must consider everything from socioeconomic factors and demographics to law enforcement and much more.

But even worse, Power’s video paints a false portrait of pre-1996 Australia being strikingly similar to the U.S.. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, Australia has always had extremely low homicide rates while the U.S. had roughly 4.5-5 times Australia’s homicide rate in the early 1990s. Furthermore, Australia never had “heaps” of mass shootings before Port Arthur; its mass shooting rate even before 1996 was virtually zero—so much so that researchers have found it “hard or impossible to detect” a correlation between gun control and mass shootings in the country. This is to not even mention the fact that New Zealand—practically identical to Australia in almost all respects—did not implement the ban, buyback, or any major gun control legislation, yet has had even less mass shootings than Australia after ‘96. Even after adjusting for population, a 2011 study revealed that “Australia and New Zealand did not have statistically different trends in mass shootings before or after 1996.” The evidence certainly illustrates that Power’s correlation doesn’t translate to causation.

And homicides overall? Power is incorrect in this regard as well. Although it is true that homicides have decreased since the ban, it is equally important to recall that homicides were already decreasing before Port Arthur. In fact, the decline in firearm homicides actually slowed down after 1996, and non-firearm homicides fell at a greater rate than the former, clearly bringing the effect of Australia’s gun control laws into question. This is one of the many reasons why researchers from the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution to the University of Melbourne and even the American Medical Association have concluded that the measures had very little or no effect at all on homicides. Interestingly, a 2015 report from the International Journal of Criminal Justice found that “none of” the peer-reviewed studies examined “found a significant impact of the Australian legislative changes on the pre-existing downward trend in firearm homicides.” Even further, the Australian Institute of Criminology also recorded twelve years after Port Arthur that assault and sexual assault had in fact jumped by 40% and 20%, respectively, not helping the argument that gun control had reduced crime in the former British colony. Contrary to Power’s simplistic argument, according to research and statistics, Australia’s aggressive gun control laws did not play a part in decreasing mass shootings, homicides, or crime.

But beyond this, Power’s implicit proposal of Australian gun control to American citizens and lawmakers is even more deeply and fundamentally flawed. Power, while acknowledging the ban on “all semi-automatic[,] self-loading[,] and pump action longarms,” makes no mention whatsoever of Australia’s 1996-97 mandatory gun buyback program—where the government “collected and destroyed” nearly 650,000 newly-prohibited firearms from its citizens, even if they wanted to keep them for lawful and peaceful use. Sure, Aussies were able to keep most of their guns, but they were required to be deemed a “fit and proper person” in addition to submitting a “genuine reason” for having or purchasing any type of firearm—of which merely “personal protection” was not a sufficient answer.

To replicate this failed policy in the U.S., as Power seems to support, would be the equivalent of state governments seizing up to 105130 million guns from the hands of Americans. Such a policy, as we have seen from Australia, is not at all likely to reduce homicides or mass shootings, but the much larger problem is that such confiscation is flagrantly unconstitutional and, if it were to be implemented, America would risk the great possibility of tremendous carnage and even a Second Civil War if they even came close to what Australia did.

Even Australia’s weapons ban would be exceedingly illogical as there are currently 100 million semiautomatics in the U.S. (not to mention the plethora of pump action shotguns) and constitutional experts contend that such a measure (even without confiscation) would infringe upon the Second Amendment since they are neither uniquely “dangerous” nor “unusual”—two weapons-based exceptions to the right pointed out in U.S. v. Miller (1939) and echoed by Justice Scalia in D.C. v. Heller (2008).

I am terribly disturbed by Power’s video; it blatantly lacks factual backing and hinges upon one, unsupported correlation. But most of all, he deliberately revises Australia’s pre-1996 history and omits that such a policy could never, under any circumstances, be replicated in America. Contrary to what Power seems to convey in his piece, the issue at hand is not a simple one; unfortunately, there is no easy solution. To make progress, we must realize that gun control is an extremely complex and sophisticated topic. Arguments like Power’s only hold us back. Research, intellectual debate, and subsequent action are what will move us towards a safer, more harmonious world, but it requires that we all be involved and informed on this most pressing issue.

Image Credits: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/australia-s-mandatory-gun-buyback-inspires-u-s-activists-few-n855361