How Australia Avoided Mass Shootings for 25 Years

 I want to start by saying I am moderately pro-gun; well, I’m more pro-do whatever-you-want to be more accurate, but I was thoroughly anti-gun for a while. Then I lived rurally for several years in various countries, and my opinions about guns slowly changed. I learned the necessity of owning a firearm for some, mainly for protecting livestock or providing food for the family. Still, one thing that hasn’t changed in my mind is how badly America needs further gun reform. When you go to the DMV to get your license, you have to provide proof of identification, a social security number, and evidence of your residential address, among other things, so why is less needed to purchase a gun in most American states?

In this article, I wanted to examine our Oceanic ally, Australia, and outline how they have managed to nearly eradicate mass-shootings in the last 25 years. While Australia has a small population for such a large country, it’s mainly due to its middle being a literal desert. Australia has several densely populated capital cities on its coast that rival some of America’s largest cities. If America annexed Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth, they would become the country’s 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th most populated cities. That means four cities in Australia are larger than every city in the United States except for Los Angeles and New York. That’s a lot of people! Yet, there were only 229 total gun deaths in Australia with a rate of 0.90 gun deaths per 100,00 people in 2019, while that same year there were 39,682 gun deaths in America with a rate of 12.09 gun deaths per 100,000 people. I also wanted to share these facts regarding mass shootings in America:

  • 31% of the world’s mass shootings occur in the U.S
  • Americans are 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun than citizens of similarly developed countries.
  • A 2014 study found that firearms injure or kill about 10,000 American children each year.

In the last ten years, 22 major mass shootings in America were responsible for 332 deaths (not including the shooters). It’s painful that little has changed regarding gun control during this past decade. In Australia, however, there have only been three mass shootings in the previous 25 years, accounting for 16 deaths, but why? 

In 1996, Martin Bryant was eating lunch at a cafe in the small historic town of Port Arthur in Tasmania, Australia. Moments after he finished, he pulled a semi-automatic rifle out of his duffle bag and began a killing spree that would stain the country’s history as its deadliest mass shooting. In the aftermath, 35 people were murdered, with another 23 wounded.

Australian citizens and public officials were so horrified and shocked by the events that day; that what followed was a swift and unified passing of the National Firearms Agreement. The National Firearms Agreement banned all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, implemented a licensing and ownership system for firearms, and included a mandatory nationwide buy-back program for guns that were made illegal.

While it’s irresponsible to say the agreement was the sole cause, there were no mass shootings (five deaths or more) in Australia from 1997 to 2016. Many Australians still own guns. Australia has the 25th highest number of privately owned firearms in the world; however, some ingenious provisions were written in to ensure gun deaths remained low:

Establishing a genuine reason to own a firearm is essential when applying to purchase a gun, the two common genuine reasons to own a gun in Australia are for hunting or vermin control and recreational club sport shooting. Without a genuine reason, you would not be allowed to buy a firearm; each specific reason also requires its individual paperwork. When you purchase a firearm from a dealer, you are given a Serviceability Certificate. This document contains the details of the gun you bought and will be referenced in the licensing process. If you buy a gun secondhand, it will have to be sent to a dealer, so they can write up a certificate and store the firearm until you receive your license. Completing a Firearm Awareness Test is required to secure licensing, and obtaining a letter of support from your sports club or property owner is also essential. Once this is done, you can lodge your application for your gun, you must provide three various forms of identification to the post official. After several weeks, you will be required to send photos of your potential storage safe to ensure it is up to standard. 

While it may seem excessive to some, these laws have made Australia a safer place to live in and I believe can be easily duplicated at scale by the greatest country in the world. America will be a safer place for it.

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  •  Australia. 2020 ‘Underlying Cause of Death, All Causes, Australia, 2010-2019.’ Causes of Death, Australia, 2019; 3303.0 (Table 1.2). Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics. 23 September 
  • CDC. 2021 ‘Underlying Cause of Death, Results.’ CDC WONDER Online Database. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / CDC, National Center for Health Statistics. 27 April
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