What Can America Learn Now From Australian Gun Laws?

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.
 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.



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

  1. I notice a lot of people blaming the mentally ill for mass shootings. Studies indicate that if mentally ill people were removed from the equation, 95% of all violent crimes would still exist because violent crime is caused by uncontrolled anger. Anger management is a serious threat. We have a gun problem in this country. The second amendment doesn’t state that eveyone should have access to any kind of weapon. That was not the intent.

  2. “Wit’s end.” Have you ever been there? Feeling the edge of mental or emotional stability is an occasional incidental consequence of living as the humans we all are.
    You. Me. Don’t forget that you are part of this Humanity.
    And then there are those few of us who have secretly totally lost that stability.
    What we civilians should not have at hand is the disciplined modern MILITARY’S dedicated technical capacity to kill scores of fellow humans in mere minutes.
    Why would a stable person want that?

  3. The medical community should be more concerned with identifying the mentally ill and reporting them than taking away law abiding citizens right to defend themselves in a society where thugs seem to be immune from prosecution and have no problem obtaining illicit arms

  4. Every single citizen (who passes a strong but reasonable background check including mental status) has the RIGHT to own and use the single-shot muzzle-loading musket or rifle of his choice. No matter what the NRA tells you, nothing beyond this capability was available to the rank and file of militia ready men at the time the 2nd amendment was adopted. That’s what the history is, not matter what you’d like to argue about the ANTIQUE INTENT of that amendment.
    For long weapons with any greater capability, the citizen should need to earn the PRIVILEGE of ownership and use through background checks, registration, licensing, insurance, basic training, and regular maintenance training.
    After all, you need all but the maintenance training for the PRIVILEGE of operating a motor vehicle and motor vehicles are not designed or intended to kill.
    (Maintenance training is probably not a bad idea for motor vehicles as well!)
    For semi-automatic handguns (definitive people-killers by design and intent) the citizen should be required to prove immediate and continued need as well as all the long weapons privilege requirements.
    PEOPLE kill. Yes. Hit with a rock. Strangle. Stab. The mentally or emotionally unstable have it at hand.
    What they should NOT have at hand is the military/police style capability of killing scores in minutes.

  5. Dr. Pearson
    As one of your former fellows in the cardiology department at OSU, I am enjoying your blog. Keep up the good work.
    Ed Gandhi, MD

  6. Also from DownUnder.
    My farmer-friend ‘sold back’ his worn pump-action shotgun, and used the money to purchase a double-barrel European weapon, which can maintain almost as high rate of fire, for as long as you have cartridges,- with less than a 3 second reload.
    Ooops !
    But we seem to have less numbers / problems with anti-depressant-dosed, younger nutters, and this might be a …”Clue”.
    That person who purchased the AR-15 could NOT have done so in this side of the Island… Our State laws are less ‘American’ than the Eastern end.
    Most gun deaths in Australia are single-shot suicides, or the occasional inter-gang executions, and it would be difficult to stop those.
    I’ve heard it said that “all” US recent mass-shooters were on PRESCRIPTION anti-psychotic medications.
    – Perhaps someone in that field would educate us …

  7. Murder rates prior to the Australian buyback were downtrending. Post buyback they spiked as did armed robberies. The buyback reduced the number of guns by roughly 1 million. Subsequently, the number of guns increased to 1996 levels in 2010, and now there are nearly 2 million gun owners (compared to 1.2 million in 1997). At the same time the number of guns nearly tripled (to 5.8 million) and homicides have decreased.
    It has been demonstrated that every time guns are banned the murder rate increases.
    I can not fathom why there is armed security in banks, airports, state and federal buildings to dissuade armed assailants, that it is not allowed in schools.

    • Dear DoctorL,
      Thanks for your comments. I’m looking at factcheck.org which updated the data from Australia.
      Take a look at the full article for charts, etc. Studies show ““In the seven years before the NFA, the average annual firearm homicide rate per 100,000 was .43 (range .27 to .60) while for the seven years post NFA, the average annual firearm homicide rate was .25 (range .16 to .33).”
      “[T]he drop in firearm deaths was largest among the type of firearms most affected by the buyback.”
      There was a slight bump in firearm deaths the year after the ban, probably not significant.
      And there have been no mass slaughters.

  8. When the criminals give up their AR-15’s, I’ll give up mine. If laws were the answer, murder would never happen because it’s already illegal.

  9. Thank you, Dr Pearson. Reading some of the comments your post has received, I am appalled at the attitudes. As for a govt website to view more info after 17 high school kids are gunned down with war weapons-/ how ridiculous. I think the slaughters should be televised more than they are now. We can’t keep blaming tv, mental illness, movies. Guns are out of control in this country. It is unconscionable that our country views these mass killings as just a necesssry evil.

  10. I come from the land Downunder; John Howard former PM legislated GunBuyback, I think it was also done in Canada; however, only the HONEST people handed in their guns.

  11. Mental health! Don’t skip the true issue. I’m a gun owner, hunter and a safe owner. I don’t store my guns unsafe, I safely store them.
    I am part of “the people” in our country who would like for the mental side be examined more, not gun control. I’m tired of the professionals using their means to profess their voice on controlling, this includes actors.
    I don’t believe owning a gun increases violence as your article states from the Annals you have researched. What increases the percentage is the mental stability of the USER.
    If indeed the news is correct in their reporting of this last nut job then the school, the police and the FBI knew about his threats against the school BEFORE this senseless act happened. Why wouldn’t this school have had some officer on duty or locked doors.
    I’m not blaming the good side here, I’m looking at both sides from a mental state of mind.

  12. Really
    Gun violence is certainly a problem but your assessment of Australia Gun laws being a solution as an example. Wow. Come on Doc.
    Hogwash. Stick to what your most informed about… Medical knowledge. I’m disappointed. Truly

  13. Considering pervasive violent content in video games, movies, and web related sites, these mass shootings not surprising. Identifying and closely monitoring bad actors should be a top priority of government. Instant screening rather than delayed background checks should be considered at gun retailers. Public tips about threats should be instantly accessible to law enforcement.

  14. The Vox quote you cited has clues
    to the more manageable solution. It mentions “high-profile”.
    I see the problem as twofold:
    1- As Vox says, you have 10’s of millions of AR-15’s and other weapons already in the hands of people in the US
    2- At every shooting, you have full-page garish headlines and 24/7 news coverage of the sort that makes every underappreciated, bullied or mentally unstable person daydream.
    I cannot imagine any possible solution to the first problem that does involve a multi-generational plan. Hundreds of millions of Americans will not act like 25 million Australians.
    But, if the media balanced the public’s right-to-know with restraint, the second problem would be almost entirely eliminated in short order.
    What if, after the scene was no longer active, the news outlets simply ran a chryon or a page 24 Public Notice that there had been a school shooting and offered a government website for those who desired more details?
    Government websites are the opposite of glamorous and certainly not very inspirational. The shooter’s name would be reduced to a single datum and they would not hardly become as famous as Dylan Kiebold.
    And Kiebold’s record would never again be challenged.
    Trying to reach consensus about what to do with 10’s of millions of guns will take many more years.
    Getting the media to turn the spotlight off is an action that can make a difference in 2018.
    Try that first.

  15. There are about 5000 killings by firearms
    Annually. 16000 suicides several per day from ex-military.
    How many related to mental illness.
    There are 60000 deaths attributed to drug overdoses annually including opioids.
    How many death per year related to auto accidents, medical errors.
    The answer is not gun control but people control

    • We can still try to prevent mass shootings while also advancing awareness and treatment of mental illnesses; they’re not mutually exclusive.


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