Saturday, June 25, 2016
Gun regulation: Is Australia a model that the USA should adopt?
In the wake of the recent shootings at Orlando and elsewhere, many Leftist commentators have pointed to the strict gun controls introduced by Australia in 1996 and have noted that Australia has had NO mass shootings since the laws were enacted. They assert that this is powerful evidence for the enactment of such laws in America. But is it true? Did Australia's strict laws reduce gun deaths?
Before I answer that, I think I might point out that there are important demographic differences between the U.S. and Australian populations. In particular, the minorities are different. Australia has negligible Africans but large numbers of Han Chinese. And those two groups differ greatly in propensity to crime generally and homicide in particular. The Chinese are as pacific as Africans are violent. I don't think I have ever heard of a Han Chinese breaking into someone's house, whereas that happens daily in the USA. So Australians have a much smaller need for guns as self-defense. I love the Han.
But one part of the Leftist claim is true. There have indeed been no mass shootings since 1996 in Australia. But such shootings were rare anyway and gun crimes were already on the way down in Australia so how do we allow for that? Below is an article from a major medical journal that has done all the statistics. Its conclusions have been widely reported but almost always misreported. So I produce the actual journal abstract below.
As you can see, they found that the decline in gun deaths had speeded up but not to a statistically significant degree. More interestingly, the rate for all crimes had declined even more than the decline in gun deaths. So all we can say is that Australia has been getting steadily safer for a long time now. There is no evidence that guns have anything to do with it. The journal article:
Association Between Gun Law Reforms and Intentional Firearm Deaths in Australia, 1979-2013
Simon Chapman et al.
Rapid-fire weapons are often used by perpetrators in mass shooting incidents. In 1996 Australia introduced major gun law reforms that included a ban on semiautomatic rifles and pump-action shotguns and rifles and also initiated a program for buyback of firearms.
To determine whether enactment of the 1996 gun laws and buyback program were followed by changes in the incidence of mass firearm homicides and total firearm deaths.
Observational study using Australian government statistics on deaths caused by firearms (1979-2013) and news reports of mass shootings in Australia (1979–May 2016). Changes in intentional firearm death rates were analyzed with negative binomial regression, and data on firearm-related mass killings were compared.
Implementation of major national gun law reforms.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Changes in mass fatal shooting incidents (defined as ≥5 victims, not including the perpetrator) and in trends of rates of total firearm deaths, firearm homicides and suicides, and total homicides and suicides per 100 000 population.
From 1979-1996 (before gun law reforms), 13 fatal mass shootings occurred in Australia, whereas from 1997 through May 2016 (after gun law reforms), no fatal mass shootings occurred. There was also significant change in the preexisting downward trends for rates of total firearm deaths prior to vs after gun law reform. From 1979-1996, the mean rate of total firearm deaths was 3.6 (95% CI, 3.3-3.9) per 100 000 population (average decline of 3% per year; annual trend, 0.970; 95% CI, 0.963-0.976), whereas from 1997-2013 (after gun law reforms), the mean rate of total firearm deaths was 1.2 (95% CI, 1.0-1.4) per 100 000 population (average decline of 4.9% per year; annual trend, 0.951; 95% CI, 0.940-0.962), with a ratio of trends in annual death rates of 0.981 (95% CI, 0.968-0.993). There was a statistically significant acceleration in the preexisting downward trend for firearm suicide (ratio of trends, 0.981; 95% CI, 0.970-0.993), but this was not statistically significant for firearm homicide (ratio of trends, 0.975; 95% CI, 0.949-1.001). From 1979-1996, the mean annual rate of total nonfirearm suicide and homicide deaths was 10.6 (95% CI, 10.0-11.2) per 100 000 population (average increase of 2.1% per year; annual trend, 1.021; 95% CI, 1.016-1.026), whereas from 1997-2013, the mean annual rate was 11.8 (95% CI, 11.3-12.3) per 100 000 (average decline of 1.4% per year; annual trend, 0.986; 95% CI, 0.980-0.993), with a ratio of trends of 0.966 (95% CI, 0.958-0.973). There was no evidence of substitution of other lethal methods for suicides or homicides.
Conclusions and Relevance
Following enactment of gun law reforms in Australia in 1996, there were no mass firearm killings through May 2016. There was a more rapid decline in firearm deaths between 1997 and 2013 compared with before 1997 but also a decline in total nonfirearm suicide and homicide deaths of a greater magnitude. Because of this, it is not possible to determine whether the change in firearm deaths can be attributed to the gun law reforms.
JAMA. Published online June 22, 2016. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.8752