Professor Mike Jones is Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Human Sciences and Deputy Head of the Psychology Department. He has co-authored a paper looking at the number of gun deaths in Australia before and after gun law reforms were enacted 20 years ago. He summarises his findings here.
In 1996, in the aftermath of a mass homicide in which 35 people were shot dead at a tourist attraction in Tasmania, the then Prime Minister John Howard called together all state Premiers and leaders of political parties in an effort to come to a national, apolitical agreement on control of certain categories of firearms. In doing so, he leveraged widespread horror at the events of Port Arthur with laws passing through the Federal then all State Parliaments the same year.
These laws did not ban gun ownership but limited what type of weapons could be sold, how they could be sold and to whom they could be sold. Weapons with rapid fire capacity such as semi-automatic rifles were the main target. The response was enormous with over 650,000 weapons voluntarily surrendered in the initial buy-back and over 65,000 received in additional subsequent amnesties and buy-back periods, including weapons that were not illegal under the new laws.
This was a costly exercise and inherently places some limitations on individuals’ rights to own firearms and has been criticised as unnecessary by those who oppose any control over gun ownership.
An article appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) this week in which I, along with colleagues from the University of Sydney, Simon Chapman and Philip Alpers, undertook an analysis of the impact these gun control laws have had on intentional deaths by homicide and suicide caused by firearms. Our analysis yielded three striking findings:
- There had been no mass homicides in Australia in the 20 years after the passage of national gun control laws whereas there had been 13 in the 18 years beforehand.
- The pre-existing decline in gun-related deaths accelerated after the laws were enacted.
- By analysing non-gun related deaths, there was no evidence to support a substitution hypothesis where guns were simply replaced by other methods.
While our work does not prove the enactment of gun control laws caused the reduction in deaths, the statistical evidence is very strong. What the data reveals to me is that lives have been saved, and will continue to be saved, since gun control laws were enacted in Australia. We can argue over how many and why, but objectively speaking fewer people are dying by gunshot since what was an impressive display of unity in putting national interest first across the political spectrum.