Aussie Gun Control

Frum pointed this op-ed in the New York Times by former conservative Australian Prime Minister John Howard:

I Went After Guns. Obama Can, Too.
JOHN HOWARD
January 16, 2013
SYDNEY, Australia

I was elected prime minister in early 1996, leading a center-right coalition. Virtually every nonurban electoral district in the country — where gun ownership was higher than elsewhere — sent a member of my coalition to Parliament.

Six weeks later, on April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a psychologically disturbed man, used a semiautomatic Armalite rifle and a semiautomatic SKS assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

After this wanton slaughter, I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.

Our challenges were different from America’s. Australia is an even more intensely urban society, with close to 60 percent of our people living in large cities.

Because Australia is a federation of states, the national government has no control over gun ownership, sale or use, beyond controlling imports. Given our decentralized system of government, I could reduce the number of dangerous firearms only by persuading the states to enact uniform laws totally prohibiting the ownership, possession and sale of all automatic and semiautomatic weapons while the national government banned the importation of such weapons.

The fundamental problem was the ready availability of high-powered weapons, which enabled people to convert their murderous impulses into mass killing.

Passing gun-control laws was a major challenge for my coalition partner: the rural, conservative National Party. All of its members held seats in nonurban areas. It was also very hard for the state government of Queensland, in Australia’s northeast, where the National Party was dominant, and where the majority of the population was rural.

In the end, we won the battle to change gun laws because there was majority support across Australia for banning certain weapons. And today, there is a wide consensus that our 1996 reforms not only reduced the gun-related homicide rate, but also the suicide rate. The Australian Institute of Criminology found that gun-related murders and suicides fell sharply after 1996. The American Law and Economics Review found that our gun buyback scheme cut firearm suicides by 74 percent. In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered 13 gun massacres — each with more than four victims — causing a total of 102 deaths. There has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996.

Few Australians would deny that their country is safer today as a consequence of gun control.

I’m not sure I can add anything substantive to the results of a well thought-out approach to minimizing the availability of assault/terror weapons to the general public. But I should say one thing I’ve been telling everyone I know: “If you can’t do it with a standard bolt-action high-power rifle, then it is illegal or should be.”