Six weeks after the Dunblane massacre in 1996, Martin Bryant, an Australian with a
lifelong history of violence, attacked tourists at a Port Arthur prison site in Tasmania
with two semiautomatic rifles. He killed 35 people and wounded 21 others.
At the time, Australia' s guns laws were stricter than the United Kingdom' s. In lieu of
the requirement in Britain that an applicant for permission to purchase a gun have a
good reason," Australia required a "genuine reason." Hunting and protecting crops
from feral animals were genuine protection wasn' t.
With new Prime Minister John Howard in the lead, Australia passed the National
Firearms Agreement, banning all semiautomatic rifles and semiautomatic and pump-
action shotguns and imposing a more restrictive licensing system on ether .
The government also launched a forced buyback scheme to remove thousands of
from private hands. Between Oct. 1, 1996, and Sept. 30, 1997, the
government purchased and destroyed more than 931, 999 of the banned guns at a
To what end? While there has been much controversy over the result of the law and
buyback, Peter Reiter and Jenny Maizes, in a 2003 study published by the
Brookings Institution, found homicides "continued a modest decline" since 1997. They
concluded that the impact of the National Firearms Agreement was "relatively small,"
with the daily rate of homicides declining 3. 2%.
According to their study, the use of handguns rather than long guns (rifles and
shotguns} went up sharply, but only one out of 11? gun homicides in the two years
following the 1996 National Firearms Agreement used a registered gun. Suicides with
went down but suicides by other means went up. They reported "a modest
reduction in the severity" of massacres [four or more indiscriminate homicides} in the
five years since the government weapons buyback. These involved knives, gas and
arson rather than .
In 2999, the Australian Institute of Criminology reported a decrease of 9% in
homicides and a decrease in armed robbery since the , but an
increase of over 40% in assaults and 20% in sexual assaults.
What to conclude? Strict gun laws in Great Britain and Australia haven' t made their
people noticeably safer, nor have they prevented massacres. The two major
countries held up as models for the U. S. don' t provide much evidence that strict gun
laws will solve our problems.