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How Australia Successfully Attacked A Gun Homicide Problem

In the debate over which gun violence policies work, consider the experience of Australia in the late 1990s.

Between October 1996 and September 1997, Australia responded to its own gun violence problem with a solution that was both straightforward and severe: It collected 650,000 privately held guns. It was one of the largest mandatory gun buyback programs in recent history. There’s reason to think it worked. That does not mean that something even remotely similar would work in the U.S., however, Vox reports. On April 28, 1996, a man with a troubled past named Martin Bryant, 28, walked into a cafe in Port Arthur, a tourist town on the island of Tasmania, and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, killing 35 people and wounded another 28.


Australia's prime minister, John Howard, had taken office six weeks earlier at the head of a center-right coalition. He quickly drew a conclusion from the Port Arthur killing: Australia had too many guns, and they were too easy to get. Howard persuaded both his coalition and Australia's states to agree to a sweeping, nationwide reform of gun laws. The so-called National Firearms Agreement (NFA), sharply restricted legal ownership of firearms. It also established a registry of all guns owned and required a permit for all new firearm purchases. One of the most significant provisions was a flat-out ban on certain kinds of guns, such as automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. There were already a number of such guns in circulation in Australia, and the NFA required getting them off the streets. Australia began a mandatory buyback: states would take away all guns that had just been declared illegal. In exchange, they'd pay the guns' owners a fair price. In 2011, Harvard's David Hemenway and Mary Vriniotis concluded that, "The NFA seems to have been incredibly successful in terms of lives saved." The average firearm suicide rate in Australia in the seven years after the bill declined by 57 percent compared with the seven years prior. The average firearm homicide rate went down by 42 percent.


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