As they’re wont to do, in the immediate aftermath of the brutal and calculated murders of two Virginia reporters many gun-control advocates pointed to Australia’s gun ban and confiscation as a successful model America should adopt.
The idea wasn’t just limited to the fringe Left, either. It was put forth in places like the The New Republic and Vox. The Gray Lady herself published a column advocating Australian-style gun confiscation less than 24 hours after the killings.
Now, the practical problems of instituting an Australian-style gun ban and mandatory buyback program have been well flushed out. But I think it’s important to examine the main claim about Australia’s gun control. Namely, that it worked. The argument, as Vox’s headline puts it, is “Australia confiscated 650,000 guns. Murders and suicides plummeted.”
Murders and Suicides Didn’t ‘Plummet’
The piece, along with many gun control advocates, cites a Harvard University study whose conclusion begins with this line: “It does not appear that the Australian experience with gun buybacks is fully replicable in the United States.” Not a great start for Vox’s angle, but I digress.
The study doesn’t conclude that “murders and suicides plummeted” in Australia after the 1996 gun ban, as Vox claims in its headline. Instead, it focuses solely on firearm-related murders and suicides. In that category they found a marked decline (although, interestingly, it still makes up nearly 20 percent of all homicides nearly two decades after most guns were banned by the island nation).
But at the same time Australia was banning guns and experiencing a decline in gun homicides, America was more than doubling how many firearms it manufactured and seeing a nearly identical drop in gun homicides. That throws a bit of a wrench into the idea that Australia’s gun ban must be the reason for its decline in gun crime.
However, what’s more important is the fact that overall suicides and murder have not “plummeted” in the years after the gun ban. Yes, as with the gun-happy United States, the murder rate is down in Australia. It’s dropped 31 percent from a rate of 1.6 per 100,000 people in 1994 to 1.1 per 100,000 in 2012.But it’s the only serious crime that saw a consistent decline post-ban.
In fact, according to the Australian government’s own statistics, a number of serious crimes peaked in the years after the ban. Manslaughter, sexual assault, kidnapping, armed robbery, and unarmed robbery all saw peaks in the years following the ban, and most remain near or above pre-ban rates. The effects of the 1996 ban on violent crime are, frankly, unimpressive at best.
Violence Declined Stateside Without A Gun Ban
It’s even less impressive when again compared to America’s decrease in violent crime over the same period. According to data from the U.S. Justice Department, violent crime fell nearly 72 percent between 1993 and 2011. Again, this happened as guns were being manufactured and purchased at an ever-increasing rate.
The Australian gun ban’s effect on suicide in the country isn’t any better. While Vox repeats the Harvard study’s claim that firearm-related suicides are down 57 percent in the aftermath of the ban, Lifeline Australia reports that overall suicides are at a ten-year high. The Australian suicide prevention organization claims suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians 15 to 44 years old. So, while Australians kill themselves with firearms less often, it seems they don’t actually take their own lives any less often than before the ban.
Whatever you think of the merits of Australia’s gun ban or the practicality of using it as a model for American gun control, it most certainly has not caused suicide or murder rates to plummet. Furthermore, Australia has seen violent crimes peak in the years following its ban while the United States experienced the exact opposite phenomenon.
Australia isn’t much of a model for Australia, let alone for America.