Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard wrote a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday on Australia’s experience with gun control. Howard was a quite conservative prime minister for nearly twelve years and was close to former President Bush while in office. It was some surprise then, as he recounts, when he gave a speech to a conservative American audience in 2008 and in answer to a question on what were his proudest moments in office, responded that it was the national gun control laws he passed in 1996.
Having applauded my references to the liberation of East Timor, leaving Australia debt free, presiding over a large reduction in unemployment and standing beside the US in the global fight against terrorism, there was an audible gasp of amazement at my expressing pride in what Australia had done to limit the use of guns.
In April 1996 the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania left 35 dead, the result of a lone, heavily armed gunman who had obtained all his weaponry legally. Within weeks the Howard government put in place measures to ban the sale, importation and possession of all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and a buy-back scheme that pulled in close to 700,000 weapons.
John Howard lays out the result:
Research published in 2010 in the American Journal of Law and Economics found that firearm homicides, in Australia, dropped 59 per cent between 1995 and 2006. There was no offsetting increase in non-firearm-related murders. Researchers at Harvard University in 2011 revealed that in the 18 years prior to the 1996 Australian laws, there were 13 gun massacres (four or more fatalities) in Australia, resulting in 102 deaths. There have been none in that category since the Port Arthur laws.If you’re looking for a case study of whether gun control works, this would appear to be it.
I'll give Howard the last words:
The US is a country for which I have much affection. There are many American traits which we Australians could well emulate to our great benefit. But when it comes to guns we have been right to take a radically different path.