In 1996, 35 people were murdered at Port Arthur, in the Australian state of Tasmania. In response, the government introduced a series of comprehensive reforms including tighter licensing and restrictions on the types of weapons that could be owned.
Many factors can influence gun violence, so the impact of the Australian reforms is often debated.
However, one thing is clear – the number of firearm homicides and firearm suicides has dramatically decreased. The Australian homicide rate is only 1.2 per 100,000 people, far lower than the American homicide rate of about 5 per 100,000 people. Firearms are used in less than 15 percent of homicides in Australia, compared with 67 percent of homicides in America.
Prior to the introduction of the gun laws, 112 people were killed in 11 mass shootings in Australia. Since the implementation of the gun laws, there have been no comparable gun massacres in Australia.
Remarkably, though, some gun advocates in the U.S. argue that Australian gun laws have actually increased crime. It’s a strange claim considering the reality of the statistics. And on closer inspection of the numbers it is clear that gun advocates are, essentially, cherry picking the data.
For example, NRA News reported statistics from the Australian state of New South Wales suggesting that “in the inner west, robberies committed with firearms skyrocketed more than 70 percent over the previous year.”
Rather than giving the national trend over many years, NRA News chose one part of one city in one state over just a two year period. In contrast, robberies using firearms across Australia have declined from more than 1,500 cases per year in the 1990s to 1,100 per year.
Joyce Lee Malcolm recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “in 2008, the Australian Institute of Criminology reported a decrease of 9 percent in homicides and a one-third decrease in armed robbery since the 1990s, but an increase of over 40 percent in assaults and 20 percent in sexual assaults.”
The implication is clear, but misleading. Crucially, guns are used in less than 1 percent of assaults and sexual assaults in Australia, making firearm use almost irrelevant to these crimes.
Was gun ownership a deterrent? This is also difficult to argue, given over 90 percent of Australians didn’t own guns before or after the reforms.
Sometimes, advocates simply invent statistics. One TV informercial claims, “[Australian] gun murders increased 19 percent.” This is simply wrong. Firearms are currently used less in robberies, homicides and kidnappings than they were in the 1990s.
Yes, the exact impact of the Australian gun laws is still open for debate. But claims that they may actually have increased crime are pure deception.
- FactCheck.org: Gun Control in Australia
- GunPolicy.org: Australia — Gun Facts, Figures and the Law
- Australian Institute of Criminology: Weapons