How Has Heightened Gun Control Worked in Australia and Britain?


Via RealClearPolitics comes this Wall Street Journal piece by historian Joyce Lee Malcolm. She notes that both Australia and the United Kingdom have had tight restrictions on legal gun ownership for decades but have still experienced mass shootings. In the wake of a particularly grisly 1996 slaughter in Dunblane, Scotland, British authorities responded in ways now urged by American supporters of gun control. 

A media frenzy coupled with an emotional campaign by parents of Dunblane resulted in the Firearms Act of 1998, which instituted a nearly complete ban on handguns. Owners of pistols were required to turn them in. The penalty for illegal possession of a pistol is up to 10 years in prison….

Within a decade of the handgun ban and the confiscation of handguns from registered owners, crime with handguns had doubled according to British government crime reports. Gun crime, not a serious problem in the past, now is. Armed street gangs have some British police carrying guns for the first time. Moreover, another massacre occurred in June 2010. Derrick Bird, a taxi driver in Cumbria, shot his brother and a colleague then drove off through rural villages killing 12 people and injuring 11 more before killing himself.

In Australia, Malcolm writes, a horrific mass shooting in Tasmania just a few weeks after the Dunblane massacre led to similar legislative results.

Australia passed the National Firearms Agreement, banning all semiautomatic rifles and semiautomatic and pump-action shotguns and imposing a more restrictive licensing system on other firearms…. Between Oct. 1, 1996, and Sept. 30, 1997, the government purchased and destroyed more than 631,000 of the banned guns at a cost of $500 million.

To what end? While there has been much controversy over the result of the law and buyback, Peter Reuter and Jenny Mouzos, 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 firearms homicides declining 3.2%….

In 2008, the Australian Institute of Criminology reported a decrease of 9% in homicides and a one-third decrease in armed robbery since the 1990s, but an increase of over 40% in assaults and 20% in sexual assaults.

Malcolm sums up:

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.

Read the whole thing.

This is possibly the toughest reality to face, in the wake of a terrifying and senseless event such as the Sandy Hook shooting: That there is ultimately very little that can be done to make sure something like it doesn't happen again. Part of that is because such events are so (thankfully) rare that no system can avoid them completely. Certainly, forcing law-abiding people to give up their rights, or treating schoolkids even more like prisoners, or arming principals or teachers or posting cops outside every locker room or whatever won't do much (if anything) to accomplish the goal of a safer society.

Back in 2002, Malcolm wrote about "Gun Control's Twisted Outcome" for Reason. And in 2003, she explained how and why one of the most widely praised history books about guns in the United States—Arming America, by Michael Bellesiles, was riddled with so many errors and so much fraud that Bellesiles was fired by Emory University. For a bonus, read some of Bellesiles smug, curt dismissal of Reason's coverage of his book.

Reason.com on Sandy Hook shooting.