While answering a few questions on Tumblr this week, President Obama informed participants that “our levels of gun violence are off the charts.” He claimed that it was incomprehensible that congress hadn’t reacted to overwhelming public opinion and passed legislation to expand gun background checks, adding that nations like Australia had long ago enacted sensible gun control laws to stop mass shootings:
Couple of decades ago, Australia had a mass shooting, similar to Columbine or Newtown. And Australia just said, well, that’s it, we’re not doing it, we’re not seeing that again, and basically imposed very severe, tough gun laws, and they haven’t had a mass shooting since.
This isn’t the first time Obama has brought up Australian gun control laws. He did so after the Navy Yard DC shooting, as well. Actually, on the left, Australian laws are frequently cited as a way to limit shooting rampages — perhaps get rid of them altogether. A few years ago, Nicholas Kristof, after mischaracterizing the law, recommended that it should be the “road map” for United States policy.
What are they talking about here? Longer wait times? Banning “assault weapons”? Not really. In 1996, after a ghastly massacre at Port Arthur, the Australian government passed firearms regulations that banned ownership of almost all semiautomatic weapons, all self-loading rifles and shotguns, and instituted strict restrictions on all sale of ammunition for the weapons. A person can own a gun if they can demonstrate to the state that he has a “genuine reason” for having one – and “self-defense” is not considered a legitimate basis for ownership. Australia proceeded to run a buyback program that lasted nearly a year, in which time the government ended up paying citizens for 640,000 prohibited firearms. It was, in other words, a massive confiscation of guns.
You may believe this sounds like a constructive idea. A person doesn’t have to live in a survivalist bunker to understand that a sizable number of Americans are perplexed or appalled by the idea of average Americans walking into a store and buying a Glock or a shotgun. I know lots of these people. So why do we keep acting like we’re engaged in debate about waiting periods, magazine size limits, gun-free zones, or background checks, when nearly every liberal pundit that takes up the gun issue either attacks individual gun ownership as some misunderstood 18thcentury gibberish or laments the nihilistic “gun culture” they imagine exists in this country. This is a dispute about the prevalence of guns in American society, not the newest incrementalist gun-control scheme.
So it’s also worth remember two things:
First: The very premise of Obama’s claim is false. In reality, gun homicides fell by 49 percent between the 1993 and 2010, according to a Pew Research Center study. And according to 2011 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, ”Firearm-related homicides dropped from 18,253 homicides in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011 and nonfatal firearm crimes dropped from 1.5 million victimizations in 1993 to 467,300 in 2011.” Throughout this time gun ownership has remained relatively steady.
Now, I don’t claim to know if more guns or less guns reduce crime, but the idea that we’re experiencing an unprecedented spike in gun violence is a perception driven by the dramatic nature of recent crimes. Which doesn’t mean that the rash of shootings we’ve seen are any less of a tragedy for those involved, or any less jarring or horrifying for all Americans, especially parents who live with the fear of this nightmarish scenario every time they drop their kids off at school.
Second: Ever since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the president has repeatedly implied that passing his legislation would have helped stop most of these attacks – as if we didn’t already have background checks in this nation. Even in California, where stringent gun control laws surpass anything Obama has proposed, citizens are not immune from someone like Elliot Rodger. Obama knows this. The ineffective and redundant legislation Democrats are peddling these days is meant to be a broad victory against the culture of guns and the NRA. It would be far more useful for him to talk about Australian policy, because they haven’t had a mass shooting since. Is there an American alive who doesn’t desire this outcome? Since he’s brought it up twice now, it’s fair to ask: What part of the Australian plan does Obama believe we should implement here in the United States? Surely he doesn’t believe the legislative effort now sitting in Washington is enough. What is enough?