The Tuesday attack that took place in Uvalde, Texas, has already started a national debate over
guns and gun control. It’s worth taking into consideration as one of the pieces of evidence on
how policies work and don’t perform, is the experience of Australia during the late 1990s.
Between October 1996 to September 1997, Australia confronted its own gun violence issue by
implementing a solution that was simple and effective it gathered around 650,000 guns owned
by private owners. It was among the largest compulsory gun buyback programs in the recent
And there’s good evidence to suggest that it did work. It doesn’t mean something similar to it
would be successful in the US as they’re naturally different nations — but it’s worth looking into
the experience of Australia.
On the 28th of April of 1996, a man who had a turbulent past identified as Martin Bryant walked
into a café located in Port Arthur, a tourist town located on the island of Tasmania, and opened
fire with a semi-automatic firearm. He killed 35 people and wounded 28 others.
Australia’s premier in the eighteenth century, John Howard, had been elected only six weeks
earlier, as the leader of the center-right coalition. Howard quickly came to a precise conclusion
from the tragedy at Port Arthur: Port Arthur killing: Australia had too many guns and they were
simple to obtain.
“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,” Howard wrote in an op-ed from 2013 published in The
New York Times. “I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.”
Howard convinced both his state governments and his coalition (the nation has the federal
system) to sign a massive, national overhaul of firearm laws. The known as National Firearms
Agreement (NFA) which was signed shortly after the shooting, dramatically limited the legally
owned firearms in Australia. The agreement also created an inventory of all guns owned by the
country, as well as other provisions, and demanded an authorization for every new purchase of
A single of the more important aspects of the NFA was the prohibition on certain types of
firearms, like semi-automatic and auto-operated rifles, as well as shotguns. However, there were
already several of these firearms in use in Australia and the NFA needed to remove them from
Australia has solved this issue through a mandatory buyback. States in Australia were required
to eliminate any guns that had been declared unconstitutional. In exchange, they would pay the
owners of the guns an amount that was fair, determined by a national committee, using market
values as a reference in order to cover losses to their possessions. The NFA also provided legal
amnesty to anyone who turned in guns owned illegally however they weren’t paid.
There were concerns that the buyback requirement could cause a backlash: during an address
to a gathering of gun rights advocates, Howard wore a bulletproof vest. Fortunately, fears of
violence proved to not be true. A total of 650,000 legally owned guns were seized peacefully
and then destroyed as part of the buyback. According to an academic research study that this
was approximately 20 percent of the total number of privately owned firearms in Australia.
Australia’s program could have helped save a number of
In 2011, Harvard’s David Hemenway and Mary Vriniotis looked over the research regarding the
homicide and suicide rates in Australia following the NFA. Their conclusion was unambiguous:
“The NFA seems to have been incredibly successful in terms of lives saved.”
What they discovered was an increase in the rate of suicide and homicide after the NFA. The
rate of suicide by firearm in Australia over the period of seven years following the passage of
The homicide rate in Australia was falling before the NFA was enacted So you shouldn’t be able to attribute all of the decreases to the law’s new provisions. However, there is evidence to suggest that the NFA specifically the buyback provisions led to the declines.
“First,” Hemenway and Vriniotis wrote, “the drop in firearm deaths was the highest in the category of firearms that were most affected by buybacks. Second, deaths from firearms in states that have higher buyback rates per capita decreased more than those in states that have less buyback rate.”
It is also worth noting that The years 1996 as well as 1997 two years during which the NFA was introduced, saw the biggest percentage decreases in the rate of homicides in any two-year time frame in Australia between 1915 and 2004. Since Hemenway and Vriniotis’s research in the past, there have been many studies looking into the specific impact of the NFA. A meta-analysis of 2021’s available research, conducted by the RAND Corporation, found that it’s extremely difficult to pinpoint the impact of Australia’s policies on an improvement in shooting violence, due to the already existing decline trend which is evident when it concerns homicides across the board specifically, there’s no such evidence that suggests that Australia’s buybacks had a significant impact.
However, it is clear that RAND authors conclude that “the strongest evidence is consistent with the claim that the NFA caused reductions in firearm suicides, mass shootings, and female homicide victimization.” What are the three results?
As my coworker Dylan Matthews points out, there’s a valid reason for gun restrictions to stop suicides. Suicide is typically an impulse decision and is usually not repeated after a first attempt. Guns are designed specifically to kill, making suicide attempts using guns more likely to succeed than, say using pills or razors. The restriction on access to guns makes every attempt more likely to be unsuccessful, making it more likely that the person will be able to make it through and not attempt to injure themselves again.
The rationale behind female victims of homicide is the same. Females are significantly more likely to be killed by male members in the context of a pattern of domestic abuse. A domestic abuser who has the ability to use a gun intended for killing victims is most likely to kill their spouse than they would otherwise.
Mass shootings are very rare instances carried out by a tiny percentage of people; decreasing the number of guns available reduces the likelihood of those who would like to participate in these kinds of activities and be allowed to carry out such actions. A study conducted in 2018 revealed that during the period of 18 years prior to Port Arthur, Australia experienced 13 mass shootings – that is, incidents where more than five people were killed. In these time since Australia has experienced one of these incidents (there was also an incident in 2019 which caused the deaths of four people).
The bottom line is that Gun buybacks in Australia may have saved lives due to a decrease in homicides and certain decreasing suicides. It is also worth noting that Australian experiences may not be applicable to the US considering the vastly different political and cultural factors between the two nations. However, when it comes to thinking about guns and ways to reduce them, this may be an important thing to take a look at.