What Can America Learn From Australian Gun Laws?

In April of 1996, a 28-year old man murdered 35 people in Tasmania primarily utilizing a Colt AR-15 rifle (a lightweight, 5.56×45mm, magazine-fed, air-cooled semi-automatic rifle with a rotating bolt and a direct impingement gas-operation system.)
This event led to public outcry in Australia and  bipartisan passage of a comprehensive set of gun regulation laws (the National Firearms Agreement (NFA)).
In the 20 years since the law was put into place (1997-2016), there has not been a single fatal mass shooting in Australia.
In the 17 years prior to the NFA enactment 13 mass fatal shootings (defined as ≥5 victims, not including the perpetrator) occurred in Australia.
An analysis of this process was recently published in JAMA.

Australia’s 1996 NFA mandated:

  • the ban and buy-back of semiautomatic long guns.
  • licensing of all firearm owners and registration of firearms.
  • that  persons seeking firearm licenses  must document a “genuine need,” have no convictions for violent crimes within the past 5 years, have no restraining orders for violence, demonstrate good moral character, and pass a gun safety test.
  •  uniform standards for securing firearms to prevent theft or misuse, record-keeping for fire arms transfers, purchase permits, and minimum waiting periods of 28 days.
 I agree with the comments in an accompanying editorial written by Daniel Webster of the John Hopkins School of Public Health, Center for Gun Policy and Research(:gun-regulation.)

Research evidence should inform the way forward to advance the most effective policies to reduce violence. However, research alone will not be enough. Australian citizens, professional organizations, and academic researchers all played productive roles in developing and promoting evidence-informed policies and demanding that their lawmakers adopt measures to prevent the loss of life and terror of gun violence. Citizens in the United States should follow their lead.


N.B. Of the 46 mass shooting since 2004, 14 featured assault rifles, including Newtown, Aurora, Orlando and San Bernardino. Apparently there are 10 million AR-15 type rifles in private hands in the USA and as Vox has pointed out

“the AR-15 is caught in a cycle. The more it’s used in high-profile mass shooting cases, the more people want to ban it. The more people want to ban it, the more AR-15s are sold. And the more AR-15s are sold, the harder it becomes to create a ban that would be able to stop the next tragedy.”

For more on assault-style rifles you can view this Washington Post video created after the Orlando shootings.


9 thoughts on “What Can America Learn From Australian Gun Laws?”

  1. There are still uncomfortable questions about (Australia) Port Arthur, but regardless, the big difference is in national philosophy. We have never had a ‘history’ of gun-totin’ rightous citizens – as the American “Wild West” *Mythology* teaches. P.T.Barnum et al have much to answer for !
    Our government model is vastly less able to morph into a dictatorship as the US one does, so it is understandable the average American fears his (Federal) Agencies.
    .- When an AGRICULTURE regulatory agency is buying military grade ballistic vests (2014) .. .I think you have a Problem!
    In Oz, these are legal ONLY for military and S.W.A.T ( Police)

  2. The problem in the U.S is that the naïve and ill informed American is so engrossed with the Second Amendment; i.e., they are worried about possibly losing their constitutional rights. Let’s face it, our early leaders who drafted the constitution were dealing with single shot, muzzle loaded weapons, not semi-automatic or automatic weapons as described in this article. This type weapon belongs in the military. I was trained with a 45 caliber automatic weapon. Perhaps the anti gun control people should go back and read American History in order to achieve some common sense? Larry G. Mrazek

  3. I am conflicted about this issue. These are the points and questions I struggle with:
    * CDC last week reported that heroin deaths in the US exceeded gun deaths for the first time. How would the restrictions you cite be more effective than the restrictions on heroin?
    * The procedures to register, educate and license firearms all seem reasonable. Until you consider that the prospective gun-owner will be forced to deal with a highly-empowered DMV-type bureacrat, who may or may not like his politics. The bureaucrat may be sincerely overworked (registering, creating and updating files for 300 million firearms is a huge amount of admin) or he may just choose to drag out the application process. Cars & trucks that don’t use public roads are not inspected or registered. Similarly, the bureaucratic bottlenecks may create an underground market for illegal firearms.
    * Of course our government would never turn on the LGBTQ or Muslim, etc. members of our community (or, under a different political party, good ol’ boys or Scott Walker PAC members). But history has shown that the outlawing and collection of firearms is infinitely easier if the government merely needs to call up a Google map overlaid with the location of every gun-owner and a listing of all of her guns.
    * I wonder how effective Australia’s gun laws would be if they had neighbors on their northern and southern borders and hundreds of millions of tourists and business travelers per year.
    Other than those concerns, I’m all for finding an *effective* way to solve this terrible problem.

    • Charles, thanks for the comments.Re:
      -heroin. I fail to see the connection. Heroin is illegal. Guns are legal. People only kill themselves with heroin. Most people kill somebody else with guns.
      -DMV-type bureaucrat…well it seems to be working OK for regulating driving vehicles, something that also has the potential for murder and suicide.
      -fear of registration. I think I’m starting to understand that the there is a genuine concern that we need these weapons to support an uprising against a malignant government.
      -australia’s lack of borders-I think this is a legitimate point. Part of many factors which make it hard to extrapolate one country’s successes to another.

    • Charles McDermott wrote:
      “I wonder how effective Australia’s gun laws would be if they had neighbours on their northern and southern borders”
      Take a look at a map – there’s only a short distance across Torres Strait between the Australian mainland at Cape York and the New Guinea mainland, making for a very porous border. Torres Strait is full of islands, most of them Australian territory and inhabited by the indigenous Torres Strait Islanders who are Australian citizens. The northernmost Australian island of Boigu is only 6km from mainland New Guinea. You can travel between those islands and New Guinea in an aluminium dinghy and the locals do. However, the flow of guns is the other way around – guns are traded by Australian drug gangs for smuggled New Guinea marijuana. And the ultimate source of those guns? Smuggled in from the USA of course. That’s also true for Canada and Mexico. The Mexican drug gangs get their weapons from the good ol’ US of A, not the other way around.

  4. Disappointed in this from you. AR 15 is no greater than many other semi automatic weapons. It’s the human who is warped.
    Australian gun ban has increased overall
    Crime there. Australian demographics much different than USA. Compare Australia to
    France, Germany and cousin country England.
    Who brings in the AK 47s?
    With your profession you should discuss
    Drug overdose, a much greater killer. Including
    Pain killers. Is that the medical AR 15 in wrong
    Hands. Again disappointed in the emotional liberal discussion.

    • Steve. Sorry you are disappointed but thanks for your comments. Let me point out that the post does not single out the AR-15 but mentions it as the weapon used by the Port Arthur killer , the event which triggered the Australian gun regulation laws in 1996. I also point out in the post that only 14 of 26 mass killings in the US used assault rifles.
      I think your point about Australian demographics differing from US is a good one and is definitely a factor to consider when analyzing causes and cures for gun violence. How do the demographic differences in the countries you cite impact gun regulation and gun violence.
      The points I made and promoted were that 1) we should use scientific analysis to inform decisions about causes and cures of gun violence. and 2) Americans should work together with Congress to develop solutions based on science.
      These points are the antithesis of emotional arguments.

      • The European countries host the lunatic
        Muslims, whereas in Australia they are not. They also are gun restricting.
        The differentiation is semi auto weapons and automatics which are more predominate in the mass shootings. The US banned those weapons for 10 years, allowed them again under special license in the past few years. However
        Those used were primarily imports smuggled in.
        I direct your attention again to the drug use. We don’t get specific stats on drug involved shootings, but most are. Obamacare and gang suppress this and recall their initiative on mental illness and gun related issues.
        Obama and gang were suppose to correct both, but see any results that haven’t been worse. Recall Fast and Furious. Sanctuary cities. Deportation failure.
        It is emotional reporting for the false lingering push on gun control. It’s a fear concept…..emotional in my book!
        52000 deaths in the US from drug overdose. 5000 deaths related to gun homicides. The other 25000 are 16k suicides 7k accidental and justifiable authorized by law enforcement. How many suicides come from drugs. 10k annual military suicides. Where is the VA help……again mental, drug?
        Sorry for the dissertation, but too much liberal self imposed self serving reporting. I combat it every chance I can.


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