The Australian Gun Ban: A Case Study for the U.S.
Every time a gun crime in the United States reaches the news networks we hear of renewed efforts to legislate greater control of firearms. Now, with the elections coming into full swing, the topic is once again a leading subject of political attentions as politicians use the subject as a rallying point. Will legislation targeting weapons have any appreciable effect on the number of innocent people killed with firearms every year? No. What we see every year from politicians is little more than political theater that has nothing to do with addressing the real issues underlying the problem of murder and gun crime in the United States. The evidence simply doesn’t support the premise of greater restrictions producing fewer crimes.
Australia: A Real World Example
A good example of this becomes clear when we examine homicide rates for Australia since they banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons in 1996. Are murder rates down? Yes. Are murder rates with firearms down? Yes. But, there is far more to it than simple lower numbers. Once looked at more closely, it becomes obvious that when you take away guns, it does nothing to stop criminals from breaking the law, and murderers from killing people. They will simply find other ways to do it.
In 1996 when the Australian gun buyback program was enacted, there were 354 murders country wide.
By 2007, that rate dropped to 282. Yes, after taking guns away from law abiding citizens there were 100 fewer murders, or a 20% reduction, however, that is total murders, not just murders with guns.
It is very important to note that prior to Australia’s gun ban, crime rates for guns were already on a steady downward trend, from 123 in 1988, to 67 in 1995. Now, in 1996 there were 123 gun homicides, due in large part to a single incident where 35 people died in a mass shooting, which in turn spurred the creation of Australia’s gun ban. Since that incident and the passing of the ban in 1996, Australia has kept to the same steady rate of decline in gun deaths which was taking place before the gun ban was enacted. In other words, Australia’s gun ban has had little to no effect on the rate of gun deaths. Spikes from year to year after the ban however, reach as high as 57 gun homicides, close to previous years’ numbers before the ban was enacted.
Effect on Crime
Here is where it gets interesting. Immediately following Australia’s gun ban, gun robberies soared from 1996 to 2000. However, by 2011 Australia’s gun robbery rate returned to right where it was at the time the ban was begun. In short, Australia’s gun ban has not reduced the number of robberies committed with firearms and thus criminals are still using firearms at the same rate as before. Worse, unarmed robbery rates increased after the gun ban, effectively suggesting that unarmed law abiding citizens are now easier targets. Robberies where the home occupant was present have also risen, known as a “Hot Robbery”, suggesting criminals no longer hold as great a fear of encountering an armed homeowner.
Next, total homicide numbers for Australia were at approximately 300 for 1990, and by 2007 the number was 253, a whopping 47 fewer deaths. Gun homicides however have stabilized at around 15% of total homicides during the same period. Again suggesting the Australian gun ban has had negligible effect if any, again considering that a steady downward trend in overall and gun homicides was taking place prior to the ban.
How Homicides are Rising in the Absence of Firearms
Since the Australian gun ban, deaths from knives and blunt instruments including hands and feet have risen. In the State of New South Wales, Australia, of 89 murders in 2006-2007, three were with firearms, the rest with knives and blunt instruments. From 1989 to 1998 there was a 20% increase in homicides involving knives and blunt instruments. From 2001 to 2012, knives and blunt instruments along with a small percentage of “unknown means” accounted for approximately 90% of homicides in Australia. Also, from 2009 to 2012 a slow but steady increase of non firearm related homicides has been noted. Strangely enough, despite such data, law makers in New South Wales are now calling for stricter controls of knives, even suggesting a knife buyback program similar to the prior gun buyback.
The Issue is the Intent to Kill. Not the Weapons.
Until we address the reasons why we have so many people living in the United States willing to kill others for no rational or justifiable reason, there will be far too many senseless killings regardless of whether law abiding citizens have firearms or not. Perhaps more disturbing, taking away firearms from law abiding citizens could very well increase the number of crimes committed both with and without firearms.
Statistics derived from the Australian Institute of Criminology