Gun Control: Australia Has Answers

With the cases of Sandy Hook Elementary School, Columbine High School, San Bernardino, the Pulse nightclub, Las Vegas, and hundreds more, the United States leads the world in the number of mass shootings, yet in the last 20 years, no substantial federal legislation has been passed regarding gun control. Even with numerous debates and proposed bills on stricter background checks, the banning of high capacity magazines, and the prohibition of automatic and semiautomatic assault weapons, necessary gun control laws have not yet been implemented. It seems that every time there is an instance of mass shooting, gun control becomes a significant topic again, but it is critical to remember that gun control is an ongoing battle that does not only include cases of mass shooting but also suicides involving guns and gun violence as a whole.

For the last 20 years, many conservative politicians’ responses to mass shootings have made use of the argument that it is “an issue of mental illness,” and when asked about the laws that have been enacted in Australia, the false assumption has been that America is culturally different from Australia and therefore similar regulations would not work. Although proponents of gun ownership generally relate shootings and mental illness with one another, the National Center for Health Statistics determined that less than 5% of the 120,000 gun-related deaths in the US between 2001-2010 were a result of people diagnosed as mentally ill. The American Journal of Public Health also states that “mass shootings represent anecdotal distortions of, rather than representations of, the actions of “mentally ill” people as an [overall] group.” Blaming the mentally ill and concluding that stricter laws of gun ownership for the mentally ill will decrease mass shootings is a weak and unsupported justification for fewer gun control laws in America.

Australia is often cited as the success story of gun control laws, and for good reason. After the mass shooting in 1996 in Port Arthur, Australia, there was a major wave of gun legislation passed, including a ban of all automatic and semiautomatic rifles and shotguns and stricter laws on obtaining guns. The Australian government also implemented a buy-back program that destroyed 660,959 firearms. Mirroring the debate that is currently going on in America, many supporters of gun ownership in Australia at that time claimed that taking away guns would not help in the ultimate goal of decreasing gun violence and gun-related suicides. But ultimately, as the statistics show, their protestations were wrong. Since the enactment of those gun control laws, no major mass shootings have occurred in Australia, and multiple studies have found in varying degrees that gun-related homicides and suicides have decreased greatly since the passing of those laws. Although there is still occasional gun-related violence in Australia, compared to the years before 1996, the laws have made definite and visible contributions to the reduction of gun violence. Whether or not America and Australia are culturally similar does not matter, because Australia is meant to serve as a model to the United States of the successful implementation of gun laws rather than a strict template that the United States must follow when creating their own solutions.

At the heart of this entire debate, though, the factor that seems to separate American gun owners from those of other developed countries, is the American mindset towards guns. In the United States, owning a gun has become a right rather than a privilege.  The Second Amendment has afforded citizens the protection of “the right to bear arms” and is used consistently as an argument by people who support ownership of guns. In other countries, including Switzerland and Germany, there are also high rates of gun ownership, but the attitude towards it is drastically different from that of the United States, a circumstance that has allowed these nations to pass laws restricting the type of guns that are owned and the process by which to obtain them. This idea that owning guns is a right is a conception that affects the United States’ ability to have reasonable and sensible debates on gun control laws. If the argument continues to be shut down by vague and incomprehensive assertions that “it’s in the Constitution”, the deliberation and establishment of gun control laws may never be effectualized, at a time when such measures are what America most needs.