I wrote a post in December of 2016 which asked “What Can America Learn From Australian Gun Laws?”
Since then we’ve had more mass shootings in the US, most recently at least 17 have died in a high school in Florida, shot by a 19 year old with an AR-15 he purchased legally.
After the Las Vegas mass shooting I noticed that there was a call from the editors of most of the medical journals I follow for physicians to advocate for gun control.
These comments from an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine are typical:
Here’s a short list of how health care professionals can use our skills and voices to fight the threat that firearms present to health in the United States.
Educate yourself. Read the background materials and proposals for sensible firearm legislation from health care professional organizations. Make a phone call and write a letter to your local, state, and federal legislators to tell them how you feel about gun control. Now. Don’t wait. And do it again at regular intervals. Attend public meetings with these officials and speak up loudly as a health care professional. Demand answers, commitments, and follow-up. Go to rallies. Join, volunteer for, or donate to organizations fighting for sensible firearm legislation. Ask candidates for public office where they stand and vote for those with stances that mitigate firearm-related injury.Meet with the leaders at your own institutions to discuss how to leverage your organization’s influence with local, state, and federal governments. Don’t let concerns for perceived political consequences get in the way of advocating for the well-being of your patients and the public. Let your community know where your institution stands and what you are doing. Tell the press.Educate yourself about gun safety. Ask your patients if there are guns at home. How are they stored? Are there children or others at risk for harming themselves or others? Direct them to resources to decrease the risk for firearm injury, just as you already do for other health risks. Ask if your patients believe having guns at home makes them safer, despite evidence that they increase the risk for homicide, suicide, and accidents.
Don’t be silent. We don’t need more moments of silence to honor the memory of those who have been killed. We need to honor their memory by preventing a need for such moments. As health care professionals, we don’t throw up our hands in defeat because a disease seems to be incurable. We work to incrementally and continuously reduce its burden. That’s our job.
What follows is my original 2016 post.
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.
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.