Australia Banned the Deadliest Guns 20 Years Ago and Hasn’t Seen a Fatal Mass Shooting Since

June 27, 2016 | Reece Alvarez

Photo credit: M&R Glasgow/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Why can't we?

No matter what side of the gun debate you are on, there are some statistics that are worth taking a look at.

First, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, it is no coincidence that the countries with the most guns per person are also the places where the most mass shooting incidents happen.

According to a 2015 Wall Street Journal report, the U.S. has more mass shootings than any other country in addition the most guns per person 89 per 100 as of a 2011 Small Arms Survey.

“The U.S. represents less than 5% of the 7.3 billion global population but accounted for 31% of global mass shooters during the period from 1966 to 2012, more than any other country, Mr. Lankford said,” according to the Wall Street Journal report. “The 90 killers who carried out mass shootings in the U.S. amounted to five times as many as the next highest country, the Philippines, according to his research.”

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Lankford assessed gun ownership in more than 150 countries including Finland, Serbia, Switzerland, the United States and Yemen — all of which rank among the top 15 countries in frequency of mass shootings — and found a strong association between the amounts of gun ownership and mass shootings.

“Until now, everyone was simply speculating about the relationship between firearms and public mass shootings,” Lankford said in a media release from the American Sociological Association. “My study provides empirical evidence, based on my quantitative assessment of 171 countries, that a nation's civilian firearm ownership rate is the strongest predictor of its number of public mass shooters."

If Lankford’s study is taken seriously, the next logical question might be what to do about all the guns?

Enter Australia and its 20-year-old effort to prohibit and reduce the prevalence of the types of guns often used in mass shootings including semi-automatic rifles and handguns.

“Since gun law reform and the Firearms Buyback program 20 years ago, Australia has seen an accelerating decline in intentional firearm deaths and an absence of fatal mass shootings,” according to a statement by the University of Sydney following a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association .

According to the study, between 1979 and 1996 there were 13 mass shootings in Australia killing 104 people and wounding another 52. Since enacting prohibitions and gun buyback programs in the mid-90s and early 2000s there has not been a fatal mass shootings (defined as the killing of five or more people with a firearm), according to the university.

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And as one might reason, the impact of reducing the amount of guns in a society has gone beyond mass violence.

According to the university, total firearms deaths and suicides, including suicides by other means, are also down.

Between 1979 and 1996 the rate at which Australians died from firearms declined by 3 percent a year. Since the gun laws were enacted, the average decline in firearm-caused deaths has increased to five percent annually, the university states.

"Opponents of public health measures to reduce the availability of firearms often claim that 'killers just find another way,’” said study co-author Philip Alpers. “Our findings show the opposite: there is no evidence of murderers moving to other methods, and the same is true of suicide.”

Before the gun laws the average annual rate of suicide or homicide by means other than guns was rising at 2.1 percent per year. Following the reforms, those numbers have been dropping by 1.4 percent a year, according to the university.

"Australia's experience shows that banning rapid-fire firearms was associated with reductions in mass shootings and total firearm deaths,” said lead author Simon Chapman, the University of Sydney's Emeritus Professor. “In today's context, these findings offer an example which, with public support and political courage, might reduce gun deaths in other countries."

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