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Homicides by Firearms in Australia

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During 1996, Australia saw the largest and deadliest mass shooting they have ever seen. The Port Arthur mass shooting killed 35 people and injured an additional 19 to come to a total of 54 victims who were affected. [1] Because of the severity, the countries government used this mass shooting to change the laws and put an end to the improper use of firearms causing homicides. The government went through many measures to ensure gun control became a priority in the country. These measures included things like the Firearms act of 1973 (prior to the Port arthur massacre), The Weapons Act of 1990 and the National Firearms Agreement (NFA). The NFA was the mandatory buy back of all prohibited firearms where the government paid owners market price to buy and destroy their firearms. For those who refused, fines, penalties and imprisonment were applied. After the country had made gun control a priority, Australia saw a decrease from 13 mass shooting which included 104 fatalities and 52 injuries in 18 years, to no mass shootings since stricter gun control laws were enforced. The governments attempt to reduce gun violence in Australia was not successful until 1996 when specific gun control laws were implementented.

The first gun control law in Australia was known as the Firearms act of 1973. The firearm act of 1973 was the countries form of gun regulations that was made up of 34 provisions which explained the bare minimum laws that the Australian residents were to follow. Provisions included subjects of prohibition, licenses and permits, Restrictions, Powers of the police, regulations, etc. [2] Before this time Australians had never had issues where they felt that serious guns’ laws were necessary. When they implemented this firearm act, it was to protect the people of their country and to make laws that everyone could be held accountable for, not because there was was an issue with gun violence. This very little regulation of gun laws was effective, until the 1990’s when there became an issue with an increase in gun related deaths that caused the government to take action.

The Weapons act of 1990 is the act that the Australian government enforced to decrease gun violence. It implied that the Australian residents needed guidance on the way that they put their guns to use and whether or not they should have owned a gun in the first place. “The object of this Act is to prevent the misuse of weapons.” [8] The way that they planned on doing this was they banned automatic and self loading rifles and shotguns, implamented specific registration measures every gun owner was required to take, and if any person wanted to own a firearm, they must prove that they want it for a genuine reason. The official act contained eight parts all with multiple division going in depth about the way the country is expected to behave and cooperate when it came to firearms. They saw a drop in 1990 to 1991 in the homicide rates after this act was implemented, but then in 1992 they saw the number of homicides rise again. [6]

Figure 1: Martin Bryant, the murderer responsible for the Port Arthur Massacre.

The Port Arthur Massacre took place on April 28th, 1996 where a 28-year-old man, Martin Bryant, opened fire on several people causing the largest massacre in Australia.  Bryant was intellectually disabled and when people who knew him heard he was the one who was responsible, not many people weren’t surprised. “Martin was a bit slow. It was important for him to compare everything and to feel he had the best stuff. I can just see him saying, ‘I shot 35 people, how many did you shoot?’ It all seems to fit.” [9] The major issue here was that a disabled individual was able to get ahold of a semiautomatic rifle that they should not have had access to. Bryant pled guilty where he was, “Sentenced to 35 life sentences without possibility of parole on November 22, 1996.” [10]

Figure 2: The Firearm buyback where hundreds of thousands of firearms were collected and destroyed

Immediately following after the mass shooting of Port Arthur, the country began to tighten their gun laws. The Australasian Police Ministers’ Council had a meeting to create new restrictions regarding firearms in Australia. This was called the National Firearms agreement. “This agreement created extensive licensing and registration procedures, which included a 28-day waiting period for gun sales. In addition, it banned all fully automatic or semiautomatic weapons, except when potential buyers could provide a valid reason—which did not include self-defense—for owning such a firearm” [7] For all others who didn’t have a reason to own a firearm, the mandatory buyback of firearms was implemented where the government bought and destroyed 659,940 guns within one year. [6] For those who turned in their firearms, the owners received the market value of the guns back for complying with the buyback. “It suggests that there were about 3.2 million firearms in 1996 and that the buyback led to the removal of approximately 20% of the total stock” [6]. During these time owners could hand over guns that were prohibited or not registered without being penalized for it. “At the time of implementation of the NFA, 155,000 prohibited guns were handed in, along with 37,000 unregistered guns.” [6] The government did this so that they could minimize any reasons individuals would have to not turn in their firearms which maximized the amount of guns that got turned it. In Tasmania, which is where the Port Arthur massacre occurred, 90% of prohibited guns were turned in. The penalties for failing to comply with the law were extremely strict. The penalties included prison sentences or fines that varied on the amount of years. [6] The extremity of the penalties depended on things like how big the gun was, how strict the laws are against the specific firearm was and the severity of the crime done.

The Firearm buyback was an experiment the government wanted to try to determine if it had any kind of effect on the statistics of homicide. The statistics of homicide rely on the entire country of Australia and not just the individual states. “Chapman (2006) found that post-NFA, there were accelerated declines in annual total gun deaths and firearm suicides and a significant accelerated decline in firearm homicides.” [5]. From 1995 to 1996 when the Port Arthur shooting was, the rate of death caused by firearms increased by 0.03%. The following year the country started to see a decrease in the deaths caused by firearms by 0.0441% and from 1997 to 1998 we saw a larger decrease of 0.0712%. The most recent statistic is from 2004 where the amount of firearm related deaths in total were decreased by .2561%. [5] In total the percent of deaths from firearms was 21%-30% out of all deaths prior to 1996.

Figure 3: Rates of gun deaths in Australia before and after Port Arthur Massacre.

After the Port Arthur shooting, 56% of the country strongly agreed with the measures that the country took. [6] Because of the tragedy that the country faced and the support the residents provided, majority of the residents complied with the firearm buyback very well which caused the decline of firearm related homicides. “They found that the Port Arthur incident did not have a significant effect on the temporal behavior of total homicides but had a significant sudden effect on the temporal behavior of firearm homicides” [6] The decline in deaths showed that having gun control laws, more specifically the National Firearms Agreement, was successful and reduced the amount of mass shootings.

Endnotes:

[1] Susan Perry, “Australia’s gun control laws linked to drop in mass shootings and other gun deaths” June 23, 2016, http://search.proquest.com/newsstand/docview/1799156207/3DA0F80D7F3F4741PQ/2?accountid=14902 (Jan 2017)

[2] AustLII Director, “Firearms Act 1973 ” www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/wa/consol_act/fa1973102/ Updated on: October 30th, 2010

[3] Richard Harding, Firearms and violence in Australian life. (Nedlands, Western Australia: University of western Australia press, 1981) pages

[4] Chapman, Alpers, Jones. “Association between gun law reforms and intentional firearm deaths in Australia, 1979-2013” pages 291-299

[5] Lee, Suardi. “The Australian firearms buyback and its effect on gun deaths” Pages 65-78

[6] Jen Ludwig and Philip J. Cook “Evaluating Gun policy: Effects on Crime and Violence” Pages

[7] Britannica Academic, s.v. “Port Arthur Massacre,” accessed May 29, 2017, http://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Port-Arthur-Massacre/628278;jsessionid=B9AAFBAD3AF5551D75F9C7BA54034B79.

[8] The parlimentary council. “The Weapons Act of 1990” https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/legisltn/current/w/weaponsa90.pdf Accessed on: 4/19/17

[9] Rosen, M., & Henderson, C. (1996). A terrible silence. People, 45(19), 52.

[10] The Queen vs. Bryant: The Court Transcript. http://murderpedia.org/male.B/b/bryant-martin-sentence.htm

Illustrations

Figure 1: www.new.com.au/national/crime/mother-of-a-mass-murderer-the-ordeal

Figure 2: http://www.businessinsider.com/australia-gun-control-shootings-2015-10

Figure 3: https://goo.gl/images/z43Cwr