Gun control in Australia and the US

Jon Oliver has had a spectacularly good three-part series comparing gun control efforts in Australia and the US, putting the lie to the claims in the US that gun control does not work to curb gun-related violence and that implementing it is hard and takes a long time.

The one major difference between the two countries is that the conservative politicians in Australia were willing to do what they thought was right in the teeth of opposition from gun advocates, and were willing to pay a political price. But afterwards, it wasn’t long before people seemed to accept a relatively gun-free society as the norm and a good thing.

I linked to the first part here.

Part 2:

Part 3:

(Part 2 appeared on April 23, 2013 and Part 3 on April 25, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)


  1. kyoseki says

    I’m British, so I remember public opinion around the time of the Hungerford & Dunblane massacres and I’m assuming that public sentiment in Australia in regard to the Port Arthur killings was somewhat similar.

    Both of these massacres resulted in sweeping legislation resulting first in the confiscation of all semi automatic centerfire rifles and then later the confiscation of all handguns.

    This was, however, only possible for a number of reasons:
    1: There was a registry of all firearms (which the US doesn’t have)
    2: Firearms ownership was generally looked down upon in the UK (which it largely isn’t here)
    3: There were relatively few firearms in circulation (the Australian gun buybacks only netted around 650,000 firearms, there’s over 300 million in circulation here)
    4: Both the principle of self defense and the consequent ownership of firearms aren’t protected by either country’s constitution.

    Number 4 is really the crippling factor here – legislators could throw themselves on their swords to try to pass firearms legislation, but it’s entirely possible that the courts will simply reverse the legislation – there’s no way you can pass any laws that require confiscation of firearms or even forced buybacks, the courts will simply issue an injunction and they’ll be dead on arrival.

    It’s also probably worth pointing out that certainly in the case of the UK, there was never a significant problem with gun violence even when you could buy “assault weapons” (similarly, confiscation of weapons also didn’t do much to reduce the body counts in subsequent shootings).

    It’s going to be very difficult to pass any real legislation in the presence of the second amendment and it’s various supreme court rulings, but similarly, it’s not getting repealed any time soon, so the answer isn’t just for legislators to ignore the constitution and try to pass unconstitutional laws anyway, but probably by changing the attitude among the general public towards firearms.

    In my estimation, this would best be accomplished by education, there’s too many people on both sides who really aren’t familiar with the facts surrounding firearms – whether it’s the nutjobs who think they need guns to overthrow the government, or the guys who have never touched a firearm in their life, but still feel qualified to pass legislation regarding them.

    Personally speaking, rather than looking at the UK or Australia as an example, I’d like to see legislation that mirrors most of the rest of Europe, where there’s actually a fair amount of firearms in circulation, but the murder rate remains low, in many cases, even lower than the UK where guns are extremely rare.

  2. says

    Not to take too much away from the success of our gun reform laws in the 90s, but gun culture in Australia was always very different from that in the USA. I grew up in the country (off and on – we moved with Dad’s job) where there were lots of rifles and shotguns for pest control (foxes and rabbits mainly) as well as for hunting (roos & pigs mainly, birds not so much). There was plenty of stupid posturing about killing fluffy things, and a fair few tragic accidents, but the idea of guns for protection against other humans was simply not part of the culture. so that handguns were almost unknown other than those carried by the police, which nobody I knew had ever seen brandished.

    Dad was a target shooter, so we were taught the basics of rifle and shotgun shooting and safety, and Dad would never have dreamed of not locking his ammunition away even before the 90s gun-control laws were passed. This was a pretty standard attitude – keeping a loaded gun around the house was almost universally viewed as culpable foolishness. As virtually nobody openly had a handgun anyway (since they would have been roundly mocked as cowboy wannabes if they’d let their mates know) the issue of “taking away our protection” simply was never on the cards.

    Our guns-for-all-advocate groups have thus always been very much a fringe movement. Our current gun laws don’t stop anybody joining a shooting club, or hunting feral pests, or shooting ducks in season, and it was obvious to most folks with sense that they never would, so the possible electoral consequences for our politicians were tiny, really.

    Sadly for USAians, this is not the political situation over there. It will be much harder to combat the ridiculously romanticised view of guns as self-protection that is so deeply embedded there.

  3. MJ says

    I’m Australian but my parents are from USA so I tend to care somewhat about how things are over there despite never actually visiting. Gun culture was a big factor in my parents decision to move to Aus and these days I can see why. I cannot stress enough how terrifying the gun culture looks from over here at times.
    A while back I read an exchange between an aussie and a self professed north american ‘gun nut’ in a gun control article. The aussie professed pride on the fact the only guns they’d seen in public were in the hands of police and the gun nut replied with a snarky ‘enjoy your police state’. I guffawed at that, the police I hear about in the USA seem so paranoid every citizen is out to kill them that they’re increasingly using tanks and snipers to combat crime. Every crime seems like an excuse to turn civilian streets in to a war zone. Against my better judgement I watched a video of american cops murdering (yes, murder) a man who was smashing windows with a baseball bat. He was obviously agitated and supposedly mace and tasers had been used to no effect. I dunno what our cops would do in that situation, chances are they would shoot at them. What they wouldnt do is shoot this guy three times, watch him fall and then shoot him seven more times when on the ground. I sobbed and couldnt stop my body shaking watching that, yet even the US commentators who disagreed with such lethal force spoke as if they were desensitized to this stuff and ‘didnt blame’ the cop for his actions. I would really like to visit my homeland someday, but if this stuff gets worse then it already is I wont take the risk. Whats the point in having freedoms when so many are taught to have so little regard for human life?

  4. sumdum says

    Why did they shoot him? If he was only carrying a baseball bat, and not hitting people but just windows.. what is the justification of shooting that guy? Isn’t a human life worth more than a couple windows? They should’ve tried something else. Anything else. A bean bag, a net of some sort, tear gas, rubber bullets, but not live rounds.

  5. Doug Little says

    “there’s no way you can pass any laws that require confiscation of firearms or even forced buybacks, the courts will simply issue an injunction and they’ll be dead on arrival.”

    That is not entirely true. The supreme’s have specifically said that the right to bear arms is not an unlimited right and can be controlled via sensible gun legislation.

  6. kyoseki says

    Ah, but in that particular case, the problem is more with rendering something illegal after it was obtained legally.

    There’s a few bits of legislation circulating right now that may require people to surrender legally owned high capacity magazines (or in the case of California, owning anything that can be turned into a high capacity magazine), so I’m curious to see how those will play out in court.

  7. MJ says

    Sumdum, I dunno the video started only shortly before the cops killed this guy and according to commenters claming they lived in the area this guy had been maced and tasered before they shot him. But yeah the complete disregard for human life was traumatizing to watch, yes the guy was going crazy but who knows why? Maybe he lost his job? Maybe he was suffering from a mental illness? We’ll never know now will we.

    Its my understanding police in my country are trained to always take a suspect alive unless there is no other option but to shoot to kill. Last time I remember cops killing someone in my neck of the woods it was a guy who got caught with illegal weapons during a routine stop. He fled with a gun but officers didnt shoot him until after he shot at them and wounded a cop in the leg. Even then there were public debates on if even that situation warranted lethal force. The cop walked out of the hospital two days later, the criminal died. He had a family, his wife went on TV to remind people of that. Despite criminal actions everyone deserves due process more then they deserve death.

  8. smrnda says

    When people tell me that the second amendment prevents the US from being a police state, I wish they’d realize that plenty of parts of the US, especially parts which tend to have non-white populations, are already de facto occupied territories of the police where the usual rights of due process don’t seem to apply. The lack of rights for those people go hand in hand with the mentality of paranoid white gun fanatics.

  9. nicknack says

    I think there is a problem with his line of reasoning. The murder rate in Australia was declining before the gun regulation came into a effect for many years, after the regulation came into effect this trend did not change, there was no acceleration in this trend. The Assault Weapons Ban in 1995 in America likewise was implemented after the murder rate started dropping in 1993 and the crime rate continued to decline after it expired in 2004. That legislation was not correlated to any change in the trend line describing the rate of murder or total crime. The US was and is still experiencing a dramatic decrease in murder and total crime rates, indeed it now has lower rates of both than at any time since 1907. And this correlated to a decrease gun regulation. Meanwhile Australia had a decreasing rate of murder but an increasing rate of total crime, a trend which is consistent in all other developed nations except the US were total crime is also decreasing.

    Similar trends can be seen between the US and all other developed nations, including Canada which is similar in almost all aspects. The US has 3-4 times the murder and 1/5-1/12 the total crime when the same definitions of crime and data collection methodologies are used.

    To understand why Americans including myself have no interest in gun control you must look at our self interest. 50% of all murder victims in the US have a felony conviction and 90% have a violent arrest record. 80% of all murderers are prior felons and 95% have a violent arrest record. Murder in the US is concentrated in urban areas, with 75% of all murders occurring in 1% of the counties, all invariably urban counties with large minority populations, gun control laws, and democratic mayors and city councils.

    For a resident of the US living in a rural area or a city of less than 8,000 inhabitants, which is 78% of the entire population, the chances of getting murdered are equal to that of an average Western European living in a rural area. Those designated as white in the US racial classification system have the same murder rate as native born Western Europeans in their respective nations. And those designated non-Hispanic white account for 72% of the population. So for a white voter living in rural America what incentive is there to trade his low comparable murder rate and much lower crime victimization rate for a European system which has a lower murder rate for all but also a higher crime victimization rate? It is not in his interest. Americans fundamentally do not care about urban criminals who are killed by other urban criminals.

    As for the incidence rate of public mass murders(4+) or multi-victim public murders(2+). Western Europe has the exact same rate of multiple victim public shootings as the US per capita and the same victimization rate as noted here: And the incidence and victimization rate of multiple victim public shootings in the US is decreasing. The European nations in question have extensive gun control that requires stringent licensing for all firearms.

    This leaves the only on argument on the part of Oliver’s position. That at total semi-automatic, pump action, and lever action weapons ban will prevent all multiple victim public shootings, a claim for which their is exactly one data point in support Australia.

    Which is not only politically impossible but also physically impossible as semi-automatic weapons account for over 100 million of the weapons owned in the US out of total number between 300 and 900 million according to the ATF. And there are already 20 million illegal fully automatic weapons in the US that are not used regularly in crime, with only 17 deaths to automatic weapons since 1934. The shear number of firearms and the US’s uniquely extreme protections on private property in its legal system make any form registration impossible.

    And as previously stated the murder and total crime rates are decreasing as is the incidence rate of mass shootings. So I have to ask why bother with gun control if the problems are slowly resolving themselves?

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