Why Australia has stricter gun control than the U.S.
Australia’s strict gun laws originated from a recent historical event in 1996 at the Port Arthur Historic Site in Tasmania. A shooting massacre occurred and Australia had a reactionary response to the event by making stricter gun laws. The result of the gun laws led to “Australia's firearm mortality rate per population [going from] 2.6/100,000 [to] today’s rate of under 1/100,000.” A great success for the country. Their laws included obtaining a license with a 28 day waiting period and a thorough background check. Additionally, the police decide whether a license should be granted or not by asking questions and checking in with family doctors and spouses. “Australia also requires a justifiable reason for the type of weapon the applicant wants to own.” Furthermore, the gun license must be renewed every few years and you must regularly attend a shooting club and be trained to shoot a gun.
So why hasn't the U.S. responded in the same reactionary way to major gun death rates and shootings in U.S. schools? Many other countries like Japan and England have strict gun rights, but Australia has a cultural connection with the U.S. Australia is very similar to the U.S. in terms of having a “frontier history and strong gun culture.” Is it the U.S. constitution that gives rights to all its citizens to own a gun that prevents the U.S. from adopting stricter gun rights? Or maybe the federal government has more power in Australia to be able to implement a nationwide law rather than leaving it up to individual states? Either way, many countries have had reactionary responses to gun violence by implementing rigorous gun laws, but the U.S. seems to be falling behind in this respect.
This database gives gun facts and laws in all countries and regions in the world. First section is gun numbers where I can compare the U.S. to Australia in terms of how many guns are held by civilians total. “The estimated total number of guns(licit and illicit) held by civilians in the United Sates is 270,000,000 to 310,000,000… [and for Australia the estimate is] 3,050,000.” To put those numbers in context of the population sizes, for every 100 people, 15 will own a gun in Australia. In the U.S., the rate of gun ownership is 101.05 firearms per 100 people. That means each person owns more than one gun in the U.S. Not only are the actual counts of gun within our country overwhelmingly huge, but people have the ability to buy more than one gun easily. They buy so many guns that it’s enough for everyone in the country to have a gun and there will still be guns left over.
In the U.S., the 2011 rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people was 10.3 deaths. This number has remained more or less the same since 1999. Australia meanwhile had an annual gun death per 100,000 people of 1.03 in 2012. You can see how in the 1980’s their rate was at 4.7 and started decreasing in the early 1990’s around the time the government responded to the major gun violence in the country with stricter gun laws. Gun law in Australia is classified under restrictive while in the U.S. gun regulation is categorized as permissive. This is apparent in the drastic difference in death rates and rate of gun ownership mentioned earlier.
Lastly, the “guiding gun control legislation in the U.S. includes the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Gun Control Act 1968, and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act 1993.” And states still have the power to implement its own gun laws after these federal laws. In Australia, “legislation [includes] the National Firearms Agreement 1996, the National Firearms Trafficking Policy Agreement 2002, the National Handgun Agreement 2002, and the Firearms Acts and Regulations of each state and territory.” An interesting difference between the U.S. and Australia is that Australia’s gun laws are much newer than the U.S.’s gun laws. Even the oldest gun legislation occurred after the newest U.S. gun legislation. This suggests that Australia has done a better job keeping up with the modern demand for stricter gun rights since the problem has gained more momentum now than in the early 1900’s, especially regarding recent tragedies and deaths that have become a part of modern history. This also suggests that Australia is more open to change and can change their gun laws more easily than the U.S. which is accurate considering how difficult it is to change the constitution. This explains why the U.S.’s gun laws are so old and not restrictive.
The Supreme Court Case of District of Columbia V. Heller shows the power of the constitution’s second amendment that gives “an individual [the] right to keep and bear arms.” In this case, there was a law in the District of Columbia that banned handguns by “making it a crime to carry an unregistered firearm and prohibiting the registration of handguns.” It also “required residents to keep lawfully owned firearms unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.” Heller (a special policeman) applied to have a handgun to keep at home, but the District refused, so Heller sued on the grounds that it was unlawful for the city to have a total ban on handguns, but also because the city’s “requirement that the gun in the home be kept nonfunctional even when necessary for self-defense violated” the second amendment. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Heller in the year 2008, stating that it went against the second amendment.
This shows that the U.S. has been reactionary towards gun violence and states and cities have made efforts to enact legislation to prevent more gun violence. The constitution’s second amendment, however, has prevented states from employing their own gun legislation for gun control. The precedent that the Supreme Court justices have set basically defines how important the second amendment will be in the future. Perhaps the only hope of having strict gun control in the U.S. is to change the constitution and repeal the second amendment. Otherwise, the Supreme Court has the power to strike down strict gun legislation, especially after establishing a clear and strong precedent such as Heller.
South Coast Hunters Club tries to organize HuntFest in Australia and receive a lot of backlash from the public as a result. Citizens “are concerned about the growth of a gun culture in Australia” and don’t think that the Eurobodalla Shire Council should have permitted the sales of guns for the festival. The council, however, voted to allow the sale since they were convinced the festival was involved in legal activity and had taken many precautions in setting up this event. One club member points out that “there are strict procedures regarding licensing, regarding sale… It’s not like you just roll up with your bank card and say ‘look I’ll have that rifle over there.’” There remains a lot of tension for events like these because of the Port Arthur massacre.
Club members also mentioned that “new legislation required firearms owners to have a valid motive” which mean that, by law, they would have to “be a member of a hunting club.” Even the club members consider themselves very conservative hunters who refuse to hunt the native animals (which is illegal anyways) and only hunt feral animals (which is legal). Furthermore, Australian gun lobbyists claim to have no link to the United States’ National Rifle Association. Though they partake in similar activities, have similar views in gun control, teach safe hunting practices and ethics, and represent all hunters who pursue the sport responsibly, Australian gun lobbyists have never received money from the NRA. The big distinction between the U.S. and Australia is that in Australia, “home and personal defense is specifically denied as a reason for possessing a firearm” while in the U.S. “an individual’s right to possess a firearm in the home is for self-defense.”
Obama’s proposed policies feel very similar to Australia’s current policies. A more secure background check that allows states to share mental health issues and criminal activity with other states to provide a more efficient system is very reminiscent of the Australian system. In addition, Obama would like to provide $20 million dollar incentives for states to play a more active role in gun control and regulation. Additionally, Obama is trying to enforce safety since he is unable to pass strict regulations on guns, so he is proposing an increase in the police force as well as increase security at public schools so they can be prepared in the case of a shooting. These two policies are very reactionary to the current issues that our country has had concerning shootings at school and in public places. Obama seeks to regulate guns through other methods rather than direct methods. For example, his “plan proposes a crackdown on gun trafficking by asking Congress to pass legislation that closes “loopholes” in gun trafficking laws and establishes strict penalties for “straw purchasers” who pass a background check and then pass guns on to prohibited people.”
Another interesting factor in Obama’s policy includes mental health. Thousands of people die every year from gun suicides and there have been shootings committed by mentally unstable students and people, so he plans to tackle these issues by providing mental health awareness and care to people in general. This feels very indirect, however, and not very effective since mental health doesn’t affect the ability to go out and get a gun illegally. A background check like in Australia should be able to determine the mental health status of a person by having a confirmation by a doctor and by talking to family members. That idea, though, would clash against the National Rifle Association since it would make getting a gun harder and the process would take longer. The indirectness of Obama’s policies shows the power of the NRA in controlling politics and forcing democrats to achieve what they want through indirect plans that don’t address the gun control issue head on. This level of political play is concerning to have in a country because it prevents action and reactions to events that occur on a daily basis.