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Why Australia’s gun laws wouldn’t work in the US | Did You Know?


Back in 1977, Australia was generally pretty relaxed about guns. “Do you notice anything unusual or different about me?” “You’re looking very nice today, you’ve had a haircut?” Fast forward 19 years, and it’s a different
story. It was, and still is, the worst mass shooting in Australian history. Less than two weeks after the Port Arthur
massacre, the prime minister at the time rallied the eight states and territories together to push through strict gun laws and a gun buyback scheme. Public opinion was mixed. But the number of deaths and mass shootings has dropped dramatically since then, and the country’s strict gun policy is often quoted as a success story for how to implement gun regulation. So if it has been so effective, why haven’t
more countries adopted a similar approach? A lot has to do with a country’s gun culture, and whether gun ownership is seen as a “You know, a big problem with the US is they have this cultural and legal concept that it’s okay for people to have guns for self-defense, and that in other industrialized countries is not really part of the legal or social
context.” Rebecca Peters is one of the world’s leading gun control experts, and she helped lead the national campaign to reform Australia’s gun laws after Port Arthur. “The thing you have to try to keep in mind is what’s going to have the greatest impact in terms of reducing the number of people injured and killed by guns.” There are an estimated 857 million civilian-held firearms in the world. It’s hard to know for sure what the exact number is, but it’s an increase of more than 200 million firearms compared to a decade before that. And the majority of those guns are in the United States. When you adjust for population size, it also has the most guns per capita. It’s a stark difference compared to other
developed countries. And the US also has a lot more firearm violence. The thing is, while we mainly hear about mass shootings, when you start categorising gun deaths, the vast number of them are actually suicides. “Whether it’s an attack on another person
or it’s an attack you know an attempt against your own life, the thing about a gun is it’s
very not negotiable. So does more guns mean more deaths? Studies have found a correlation between gun
ownership and gun violence. But you have to look a bit deeper than that. Take Finland for example. Rates of gun ownership in the country are high, but the rate of gun homicide is relatively quite low. Why is that? “The big, big difference between Finland
and the US is that in Finland people own shotguns for hunting because Finland is a big hunting country, and they do have a lot of shotguns, but they do not have a lot of handguns.” It’s not only about the number of guns,
but the types of guns as well. In the UK, semi-automatics were banned and registration was mandatory for shotguns after the 1987 Hungerford massacre. But it took it a step further after the Dunblane massacre in 1996, banning the private ownership of handguns. If you look at Australia, the number of guns now is actually around the same number as what there was around the time the gun buyback took place. But the rate of gun violence is also much
lower. “That’s because the types of guns that
are available, semi-automatics are not available, and also because the new rules have changed the distribution of who owns guns.” Depending on where you live, it could take a few months or just a few hours. In Australia, you need both a licence and a permit. To get the licence you need to, among other things, give a “genuine reason” for having a firearm — and no, “personal protection” won’t cut it. You also need to apply for a permit for every firearm, and to register it. A key part of the laws is the waiting period. Even after you’ve done all the paperwork, you need to wait at least 28 days before you can do anything more. New Zealand also requires you to apply for a licence, which involves a long vetting process. An interesting element of their laws is that, as part of the process, authorities will get in touch with someone close to you. “And that’s especially important when you think about domestic violence because the people who are perhaps best placed to say something about whether it’s a good idea for that person to have a gun or not is often the people who have been their wife, their girlfriend or their partner.” Both Britain and Canada have similar laws, where again you must provide a reason for owning a firearm and character references, as well as go through a background check. One country with very little gun violence is Japan. They still have guns around, about 380,000 of them in fact. It’s just really hard to get one. First, you: Look, you get the point. It’s hard to argue with the results. From 2010 to 2014, in a country of more than 125 million people, there were less than 40 gun homicides. That’s about the same number the US had
every 30 hours in 2014. And that could be because the country has the loosest gun laws in the developed world. In general, you just have to pass a basic background check, though some states do have stricter laws. One of the reasons gun laws in the US have remained the way they have is because of a uniquely American factor — And it’s not that people aren’t in support
of stricter gun laws. In fact, many gun owners in the US support stronger bans and universal background checks. The problem is, because voting isn’t compulsory, these opinions don’t mean anything unless you can rally people to vote. The NRA are a powerful voice when it comes to voting, providing guides which grade and endorse certain political candidates. Which means candidates find themselves trying to please the powerful gun lobby, sometimes going to weird lengths. No, seriously. It’s one part of the US’s distinct legal environment. The country acknowledges the legal right to own a gun, through the Second Amendment. And just passing a stronger nationwide gun law through Congress is hard. For a bill to become federal law, you have
to go through their bicameral system. This is similar to a lot of other countries. It gets more complicated though – in the US, you also need the President to sign off on it. Basically this means that, without majority support, there are plenty of points in the process for the bill to be defeated. Whereas in New Zealand, their parliamentary system is unicameral. This means the government of the day controls the agenda with little obstruction, so it’s a lot easier for laws to be created. At the end of the day, while the restrictions and buyback in Australia pulled most firearms out of circulation, it hasn’t eliminated all gun violence. And the experience of countries like Britain and Japan wouldn’t necessarily work in a country such as the USA, because of cultural and political differences. But the stats are pretty clear that stronger gun reforms — no matter how strict — can make a difference. “There are bad people who decide to
do bad things, but the thing is to design laws that make it much more difficult for
the criminals to follow through with that plan.”

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