Australia has for a long time been touted as a shining example of successful gun control. It is a veritable crown jewel for those who approve of civilian disarmament. Almost any discussion about gun control has somebody suggesting the emulation of Australian policy. The reality about gun control Down Under, and the effectiveness of the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), is considerably less clear cut.
Study finds NFA to have had no effect
A recent peer reviewed study by Gilmour et al, published in the American Journal of Public Health, investigated the effect of the NFA on suicide and homicide mortality by sampling data from 1975 to 2015. A long-standing declining trend in firearm-related mortality was present in Australia for decades before the NFA became law, and many previous studies failed to take account of it. The researchers concluded that “the NFA had no statistically observable additional impact on suicide or assault mortality attributable to firearms in Australia.”
This isn’t a surprising conclusion – homicide and violent crime rates in developed economies have experienced a long-run decline for decades. Even in the “gun crazy” United States homicide rates are at a 52-year low. And other violent crimes are similarly down.
The impact of gun control legislation on these long-term trends is therefore highly questionable.
So, after implementing one of the strictest gun control laws in the world, banning civilian possession of certain firearms, and coercing citizens to surrender more than 650 000 guns, did the Australian NFA achieve its stated purpose? It certainly doesn’t look that way. Entirely the opposite, in fact. The NFA appears to be an expensive white elephant. A waste of time and money, and a grievous infringement on the basic civil rights of Australians.
All that it achieved, was to disarm law-abiding Australians, make it infinitely more difficult for them to legally possess firearms, and render a greater portion of the population into defenceless victims.
But the story gets even more intriguing when we start delving into the details.
Mass shootings after Port Arthur – how they stack up
The National Firearms Agreement was implemented in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre. Twelve days after, in fact. So it literally came hot on the heels of one of Australia’s worst mass murder disasters.
It has become almost impossible to separate the topic of the NFA with that of Port Arthur – supporters of gun control frequently (and smugly) point out that, because of the NFA, there have been no mass shootings in Australia since Port Arthur. This is a lie. There have been at least 19 mass killings in Australia since Port Arthur, and 8 of them were mass shootings.
|% of attacks||0.42||0.16||0.21||0.05||0.16||1.00|
|% of deaths||0.29||0.16||0.37||0.06||0.12||1.00|
|Avg. death toll||3.75||5.67||9.75||6.00||4.33|
*Strangulation, blunt-force trauma, and other miscellaneous methods.
Even though mass shootings make up 42% of total attacks, they only account for 29% of total deaths. The deadliest types of mass killings (given by the average death toll per attack) were arson attacks, followed by vehicular attacks, and then mass stabbings.
The upsurge in arson attacks is interesting: the only previous mass killing by that method occurred in 1973. Vehicular attacks have demonstrated devastating ability to incur massive casualties, and don’t require further explanation. Knives and other sharp instruments have always been used in the commission of more murders than firearms, and the only noteworthy mention is that their use experienced a marked uptick in 2001/2002.
Conversely, in the 22 year period before Port Arthur there were 12 mass shootings, resulting in 60 deaths. This results in an average death toll of 5 per incident (lower than the current average for mass stabbings). When other factors are considered, such as the declining long-run homicide rate, it pours cold water on the idea that gun control regulation had any significant effect.
The homicide rate versus spending on policing
The implementation of the NFA occurred in 1996. The homicide rate in 1996 was 1.7 murders per 100 000 people. Initially the rate declined down to 1.52 in 1998, but then sharply increased to 1.9 per 100 000 in 2000 – an increase of 25% in two years. The homicide rate only declined below 1.7 again in 2004. In summary, after the implementation of the NFA, the Australian homicide rate increased. It then stayed at a higher level until 2004, taking eight years to decline below the 1996 rate.
The above charts tell an interesting tale. The first displays annual expenditure on police (in 2010 Millions A$) versus the Australian national homicide rate. The second measures the total Australian population against annual expenditure on police.
Between 1996 and 2004, spending on police increased by 35%. During the same period the Australian population grew by just under 10%. In fact, growth in spending on police completely outstripped the Australian population growth between 1995 to 2010 – the population grew by about 23% whilst spending on police increased by a whopping 74%.
So the homicide rate didn’t eventually decline because of more effective gun control. The homicide rate was forced down by, among other things, a disproportionate amount of spending on law enforcement and police.
This exactly replicates a similar phenomenon experienced in the UK after their handgun ban in 1997, as documented by the Crime Prevention Research Center.
After the ban…homicide rates bounce around over time, but there is only one year (2010) where the homicide rate is lower than it was in 1996. The immediate effect was…a 50 percent increase in homicide rates. Firearm homicide rate had almost doubled between 1996 and 2002…The homicide and firearm homicide rates only began falling when there was a large increase in the number of police officers during 2003 and 2004. Despite the huge increase in the number of police, the murder rate still remained slightly higher than the immediate pre-ban rate.
The significant and disproportionate increase in government spending on law enforcement resources likely had some impact on bringing Australian homicide rates back down to below 1996 levels, and back in line with the previous long-term decline.
Australian gun control laws have failed to achieve their stated purpose. Suicide and homicide mortality rates have been declining in Australia since the late 1980s. This decline was present across all mortality methods. The Gilmour et al study found that, when controlling for such factors, the NFA had no statistically significant impact on homicide and suicide rates.
This makes sense, seeing as how the homicide rate increased above 1996 levels after the NFA was implemented. It then took 8 years (until 2004) for the rate to be brought back down below that of 1996.
When considering the disproportionate increase in government spending on policing during the period 1995 to 2010, which completely outstripped the Australian population growth, it is highly plausible that the homicide rate was forced back down thanks to some contribution from massive increases in law enforcement resources.
Additionally, there have been at least 19 mass murders after Port Arthur, of which 8 were classified as mass shootings. Despite mass shootings making up 42% of these mass killings, they were less deadly on average than arson attacks, mass stabbings, and vehicular attacks.
All that the NFA achieved, was to disarm a large segment of the law-abiding Australian population. It arbitrarily deprived them of their private property, which they were forced to “sell” to the government because it was now illegal to own. It trampled the rights of Australians to defend themselves and their families from violent criminal aggression with the most effective tools available, if they should so choose. That choice is no longer available. The NFA is also an expensive white elephant, and it squanders public money that could be more responsibly spent elsewhere.
Claims that firearm regulation and gun control laws have any meaningful impact on public safety are dubious at best, and fraudulent at worst. It is simply beyond the scope of legislation to effect the required change in societal norms to have the advertised impact. If that were truly the case, then the prohibition of drugs and prostitution would have stopped the prevalence of those vices. Attempting to change behaviour through the regulation of objects is foolhardy – the causal factors of crime and violence are infinitely more complex than can be addressed by strict gun control. Instead gun control merely succeeds in creating more defenceless victims, and infringes on the civil rights of an entire population. If we can learn anything from Australia, it is that expensive and ever-stricter gun control is doomed to failure.
- All data pertaining to the Australian homicide rate was sourced from World Bank Data.
- Data pertaining to expenditure on police and law enforcement was sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Year Book Australia.
- Data pertaining to massacres in Australia are hyperlinked.
Written by Gideon Joubert
Gideon is the owner and editor of Paratus