Sydney, June 23 (IANS) Australia has seen a larger decline in intentional firearm deaths and an absence of fatal mass shootings since gun law reform and firearms buyback programmes were introduced 20 years ago, a new study says.
“The absence of mass shootings in Australia in the past two decades compares to 13 fatal mass shootings in the 18 years prior to these sweeping reforms,” said lead researchers Simon Chapman, Emeritus Professor at University of Sydney.
The introduction of Australia’s unprecedented gun laws followed the mass firearm shooting in April of 1996, when a man used two semiautomatic rifles to kill 35 people and wound 19 others in Port Arthur, Tasmania.
“Opponents of public health measures to reduce the availability of firearms often claim that ‘killers just find another way.’ Our findings show the opposite: there is no evidence of murderers moving to other methods, and the same is true of suicide,” study co-author Philip Alpers who is also from University of Sydney said.
From 1979 to 1996, total firearm deaths in Australia were declining at an average three per cent per year. Since then, the average decline in total firearm deaths has accelerated significantly to five per cent annually.
The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
In June 1996, the Australian federal government enacted new gun laws banning rapid-fire long guns, including those already in private ownership, explicitly to reduce their availability for mass shootings. These gun laws were progressively implemented in all six states and two territories between June 1996 and August 1998.
In addition, in 1997, federal and all state governments commenced a mandatory buyback at market price of prohibited firearms.
As a result, large criminal penalties, including imprisonment and heavy fines, applied to possession of any prohibited weapon.
A handgun buyback followed in 2003, and thousands of gun owners also voluntarily surrendered additional, non-prohibited firearms without compensation.
Since 1996, more than a million privately owned firearms are known to have been surrendered or seized, then melted down.
“Australia’s experience shows that banning rapid-fire firearms was associated with reductions in mass shootings and total firearm deaths. In today’s context, these findings offer an example which, with public support and political courage, might reduce gun deaths in other countries,” Chapman said.
The US Senate on Monday failed to muster the votes to pass any of several competing bills aimed at making it more difficult for potentially dangerous individuals to purchase firearms.
Popular revulsion over the deaths of 49 people in the June 12 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, prompted lawmakers in both parties to put forward proposals.