Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop has a message to America in the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas: We can help.
A gunman reportedly opened fired from his Las Vegas hotel room window on Sunday night, killing at least 58 people and injuring hundreds more. It’s the type of inexplicable violence many Australians can recall from decades past.
“What Australia can do is share our experience after the mass killing in Port Arthur back in the late 1990s, when 35 people were killed by a lone gunman,” Bishop said, according to The Washington Post. “We have had this experience. We acted with a legislative response.”
Should Americans take her up on her offer? What’s happened in Australia since 1996 certainly suggests we should.
Less than two weeks after that horrific shooting in Port Arthur stunned the world, the Australian government leapt into action. New gun laws were rolled out under the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), banning private gun sales and establishing a national firearms registry. Australians were also expected to present a “genuine reason” for the need to purchase a gun; self-defense simply did not suffice.
A major component of Australia’s gun reform legislation was a bold buyback program. After certain guns were banned outright — such as semi-automatic rifles — the government bought back hundreds of thousands of those weapons from gun owners. It also allowed for illegal guns to be surrendered to officials without fear of penalty.
Two months after the Port Arthur massacre, then-Prime Minister John Howard, a conservative, addressed a crowd in Victoria — a crowd of Australian gun owners.
In his speech — in which he stressed law-abiding gun owners “were not criminals” — the prime minister candidly noted that, yes, the new polices might be an inconvenience to many people sitting in the crowd.
But, he argued, saving Australian lives was worth it.
“Now I don’t pretend for a moment, ladies and gentlemen, that the decision that we have taken is going to guarantee that in the future there won’t be other mass murders; I don’t pretend that for a moment,” Howard said. “What I do argue to you, my friends, is that it will significantly reduce the likelihood of those occurring in the future.”
In the two decades since that speech, he’s been proven largely right. Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting.
Implementing gun reform laws worked very, very well. Homicides involving guns dropped nearly 60% throughout the following decade. Death by suicide using a firearm plummeted 65%.
While gun proponents have pushed back on the new laws’ successes in Australia, they’ve been fighting an uphill battle. Most of the evidence they tend to point to is cherry-picked and irrelevant in the big picture. A 2006 study they’ve touted, suggesting the drop in Australia’s gun violence had to do with broader trends (not gun control laws), has been discredited; unsurprisingly, it was funded by pro-gun groups.
Will we ever see similar success on gun control in the U.S.?
We have reason to hope, but it won’t be easy.
While Australia’s 1996 mandates were bold, they were also extremely popular: 9 out of 10 Australians approved of the provisions at the time. Basic gun control measures share similarly overwhelming approval in the U.S. too — yet America has failed to pass meaningful gun reform legislation. The jaw-dropping power of the gun lobby may have something to do with that.
But as Bishop noted after offering her country’s expertise in the wake of the shooting in Vegas, where there’s a will, there’s a way: “It’ll be up to U.S. lawmakers and legislators to deal with this issue,” she said.
She’s right. And it’s on us to force them to deal with it.