No, Australia is not an example of the effectiveness of gun control. (Sorry, Jim Jefferies)
Every once in a while, I happen upon the tired old argument that Australia is a prime example of the effectiveness of gun control. In 1996, Australia experienced a horrific mass shooting which left dozens dead and dozens more wounded. Subsequently, the government instituted a massive buyback program in which gun-owners were forced to give up (but were compensated for) their firearms (mainly semi-automatic rifles and shotguns) to the government. Since then, most rifles and shotguns have been banned from civilian use.
The result? Australia hasn’t experienced a mass shooting since then. At least that’s what gun control advocates tell us. Recently, a video of Australian comedian Jim Jefferies went viral. In the video, he covers Australia’s gun control measures, and mocks the United States for not adopting similar measures. His claims sum up the pro-gun control advocate’s position well. He states…
“In Australia, we had guns… right up until 1996 Australia had the biggest massacre on Earth. Still hasn’t been beaten. After [the massacre] they [the government] banned guns…Since the gun ban in 1996 there hasn’t been a single massacre since.”
Case closed right? Not exactly, experts who have studied this matter aren’t exactly jumping to the same conclusion. For example, the abstract of a paper published in the Justice Policy Journal specifically examining the question of whether or not gun control reduced mass shootings in Australia reads as follows:
“The current paper examines the incidence of mass shootings in Australia and New Zealand (a country that is socioeconomically similar to Australia, but with a different approach to firearms regulation) over a 30 year period. It does not find support for the hypothesis that Australia’s prohibition of certain types of firearms has prevented mass shootings, with New Zealand not experiencing a mass shooting since 1997 despite the availability in that country of firearms banned in Australia.“
Even if gun control did in fact reduce or eliminate mass shootings in Australia, which there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that it did, that still wouldn’t be a good argument in favor of the United States adopting similar measures. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has noted that, “public mass shootings account for few of the murders or non-negligent homicides related to firearms that occur annually in the United States.” In fact, according to the CRS only 567 lives were taken in mass shootings over a period of…three decades. That’s only 18.9 per year, which means that deaths by mass shootings account for less than 1% of all firearm homicides. Thus, eliminating all mass shooting deaths would reduce firearm homicide rates by a statistically insignificant amount.
Also, assuming that firearm bans were 100% effective, and the evidence shows they aren’t, banning rifles and shotguns in the United States would have at best small effects on gun violence. Rifles were only confirmed to have been used to murder 322 people in 2012. That’s only 3.6% of all firearm homicides and only 2.5% of all homicides in general. Similarly, shotguns were only confirmed to have been used to murder 303 people in 2012, which constitutes 3.4% of all firearm homicides and 2.3% of all homicides in general.
For comparison, that same year, there were 1,589 homicides committed with knives, 518 committed with blunt objects, and 668 committed with hands or feet. That’s right, you’re more likely to be strangled, clubbed, or stabbed to death in America than be shot and killed by the dreaded AR-15. Do gun control advocates think we should we ban hammers, clubs, and knives as well?
Going back to Australia, one would think that given the massive promotion of its gun control measures by gun control advocates, there would at least be some actual research supporting the assertion that these measures lead to sharp declines in firearm homicide. Apparently, there isn’t. A recent review of the evidence on Australia’s gun control measures published in the International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences reports the following…
“Studies on Australia’s firearms legislation, using different time series and different statistical methodologies, have produced consistent results. In light of this, it appears reasonable to conclude that on the basis of available research there is no evidence for an impact of the NFA [Australia’s gun control legislation] on firearm homicides…
Although the total number of published peer-reviewed studies based on time series data remains relatively small (fewer than 15 studies, at the time of writing), none of these studies has found a significant impact of the Australian legislative changes on the pre-existing downward trend in firearm homicide.“
Thus, the natural experiment on the effectiveness of strict gun control measures, which the Australian’s have provided us with, provides us with no evidence that such measures actually reduce firearm homicide. In this case, it seems as though gun control advocates have widely touted the effectiveness of laws which are, in reality, ineffective.
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