Gun Control in Australia - Island of Sanity

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Gun Control in Australia


The Question

In 1996, Australia passed one of the strictest gun control laws in the world. The government confiscated and destroyed at least 630,000 guns. While one can still own a gun in Australia, there are tough conditions and restrictions, so only about 5% of Australians own a gun today. Penalties for illegal gun ownership -- even if the person has not used it to threaten or hurt anyone -- are steep.

The change in the law was prompted, and made politically possible, by a mass shooting in the city of Port Arthur. A lone gunman with a history of violence killed 35 people.

So the obvious question is, Have the tough new gun laws reduced violent crime in Australia? This seems like a simple question: Just look at the rate of violent crime before and after the law was passed. Rather than read all the analysis and interpretation from others, I decided to go straight to the statistics. I found this site: The Australian Institute of Criminology, an agency of the Australian government. And I found this page, Victims of Violent Crime, giving relevant statistics.

Their historical data starts in 1993, three year before the new gun laws were passed, and goes through 2012. You can follow the above link and review all the details yourself, but here's the lowdown: The following chart compares 1995, 2001, and 2012.

A couple of notes:

  1. I looked for data on violent crimes in general, not specfically gun crimes. If a criminal can't get a hold of a gun and instead murders someone with a knife, that's one less "gun crime", but it's still a murder, and I don't think the victim or his family cares about the weapon used.
  2. The Australian government web site gives the statistics as total number of crimes. As the population of Australia, like most places, has gone up, looking at raw numbers can make it look like crime is going up while looking at rates makes it look like crime is going down. So to be fair I looked up the population of Australia and I have calculated the crime rate as the number of each type of crime per million people.
  3. I used 1995 because it was the last year before the new gun law went into affect. I used 2012 because it was the most recent year for which this site had data. And I used 2001 because it was a year in which Australia's crime rates were at or near their peak. (You could debate exactly what the peak year was depending on exactly how you count. Not al crimes peaked in the same year, you could use rates or counts, probably other debatable points.)

The Data

Counts Rates
1995 2001 Change 2012 Change 1995 2001 Change 2012 Change
Population 17,854,000 19,153,000 +7% 22,723,000 +27%
Homicide 355 347 -2% 297 -16% 20 18 -9% 13 -34%
Armed robbery 5258 11233 +114% 6219 +18% 294 586 +99% 274 -7%
Sexual assault 13099 17577 +34% 18153 +39% 734 917 +25% 799 +9%
Kidnapping 469 767 +64% 636 +36% 26 40 +52% 28 +7%

Some Conclusions

After the gun ban, the murder rate went down. Gun control advocates can point to that as evidence that the gun ban worked.

After the gun ban, rates of sexual assault and kidnapping went up. Armed robbery climbed sharply in the years after the gun ban. The total numbers today are higher than before the gun ban, though the rates are somewhat lower. Gun rights advocates can point to this as evidence that the gun ban disarmed law-abiding citizens and prevented them from defending themselves.

It's interesting to note that after the gun ban, the number of homicides actually went up: from 355 in 1995, to 354 in 1996 (the year of the ban), to 364 in 1997. The number of homicides peaked at 385 in 1999, and didn't fall below the pre-ban rate until 2003, seven years after the gun ban went into effect. The gun confiscations were complete by early 1997. So why did it take seven years to see a decline? If taking guns off the streets prevents murder, wouldn't you expect the results to happen immediately upon the guns being taken? It's possible that other factors were involved in the long-term decline. Over the same period, 1995 to 2012, the U.S. murder rate fell from 82 per million to 47 per million, a drop of 43% -- a faster decline than experienced by Australia -- while gun control laws in the U.S. have been loosened and rates of gun ownership have gone up.

© 2015 by Jay Johansen


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