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Martin Bryant

Want to avoid gun massacres? Australia shows how

ASK THIS | January 31, 2011

Firearms in Australia, as in the U.S., have been a basic part of the culture. But in 1996, after a gunman killed 35 people and injured 21 more, a conservative prime minister took the lead and the country rapidly enacted powerful restrictions. For example: You say you need a gun for self-protection? Forget about it.

By William Claiborne

MELBOURNE—As a cheerful midday crowd of tourists ate lunch at the Broad Arrow Café near the ruins of the 19th Century Port Arthur prison in Australia’s island state of Tasmania on April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a 29-year-old diagnosed with delusional schizophrenia, stepped through the door and without a word calmly and methodically opened fire on the tourists with one of two semi-automatic assault rifles that he took from a bag. Before his random shooting frenzy was over, Bryant had killed 35 people and wounded 21 more in the worst gun massacre in Australia’s modern history.

The carnage sent shock waves throughout Australia, which in the previous decade had experienced five random, multiple gun killings but nothing remotely approaching the scale of the carnage left by Bryant, who had bought his weapons from a gun dealer without obtaining a license. Riding a wave of public outrage over lax gun controls that were seen by many as abetting the massacre, conservative Prime Minister John Howard quickly swung into action and before the year was out Australia’s firearms laws were massively transformed.

The new gun controls required strict registration and licensing requirements for all gun buyers, extensive background checks during a 28-day waiting period before purchase, a total ban on semi-automatic rifles, and handgun licenses restricted to members of target shooting clubs who compete in a minimum number of matches each year. Importantly, self-defense would not be accepted as a valid reason for applying for any kind of gun license.

In the wake of the random shootings on Jan. 8 in a Tucson shopping center by Jared Lee Loughner, which left six people dead and 19 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, many Australians are expressing their incredulity that once again—after yet another mass gun massacre in the U.S.—the American polity seems not to have learned the lessons that even a conservative government like John Howard’s in 1996 was quick to act upon.

As reporters search for reasons why guns designed for use in warfare are still readily available to people like Jared Loughner in the United States, and why the Tucson killings have not inspired more public outrage and demands for gun controls—or at least a closer examination of the people buying military-style weapons with large ammunition magazines—they might consider how gun law reform came to Australia, a country with a similar historical and cultural background, but whose people in 1996 collectively said, in effect, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more.”

Q. How extensive is gun ownership in Australia compared to the United States?

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) about 10 percent of Australian households, most of them in rural areas, have at least one gun, reflecting a decline from about 20 percent in 1989. Currently about 5.2 percent of Australian adults (765,000 people) own and use firearms for hunting, controlling feral animals, target shooting and collecting, according to the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia. Australia, with a population of 22 million, has a total of 2.5 million registered firearms, the AIC said. While it is difficult to estimate the number of illegal guns, a study by Sydney University’s School of Public Health estimated there are about 20,000 illegal handguns in Australia.

In contrast, surveys in the United States last year showed that an estimated 40-45 percent of households had guns and 30-34 percent of American adults own at least one gun. A Gallup organization poll found that two-thirds of the gun owners cited self-defense as a reason for owning a firearm, although hunting and target shooting were also cited by many. The worldwide Small Arms Survey of the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies estimated there are between 238 million and 276 million privately-owned firearms in the U.S., which has an estimated population of 310 million. The survey reported that about 4.5 million of the 8 million new guns manufactured worldwide each year are purchased in the United States.
Q. What role do firearms play in violent crimes in Australia, compared to the United States?

In Australia in 2006, a firearm was used in 17 per cent of murders, while knives, the most common weapon reported, were used in 34 per cent of murders. In robberies, guns were used in only 7 per cent of the offenses, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

A sharply declining trend in gun use in homicides and robberies began in 1969, the year of the Port Arthur gun massacre and the imposition of tight gun control, which followed a year in which 44 per cent of all homicides were by gun, according to the National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP).  In the 2008 fiscal year, Australia had 260 homicides, or 1.2 homicides per 100,000 population.

In the United States, the story is different. In 2008, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation report, there were 16,272 homicides, of which 10,886 (or 67 per cent) were committed with guns. In 2006, firearms were used in 67.9 percent of the nation’s murders, in 42.2 percent of the robbery offenses, and in 21.9 percent of the aggravated assaults, according to the FBI report. In 2005, 75 percent of homicides by firearms in the United States were committed using handguns, according to the FBI. This compared to 4 percent with rifles, 5 percent with shotguns, and the rest with unspecified types of firearms.
Q. How do Australia’s restrictive gun control laws actually work?

Although under Australia’s Constitution states control the possession and use of firearms, the restrictive new state gun laws were uniformly shaped under the 1996 National Agreement on Firearms enacted by the federal Parliament. They require gun licensing, registration by the serial number of weapons, a minimum age for the purchaser of 18 years, a 28-day waiting period accompanied by a background check and assurances of locked storage for all firearms.

Before anyone can purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer, he or she must provide a “genuine reason” related to hunting, target shooting, varmint control or collecting.  Self-defense is not an acceptable reason for issuing a license. Handgun purchasers must serve a six-month probation using club handguns and they must compete in a minimum number of matches each year. Semi-automatic centerfire rifles and pump-action shotguns are restricted to government agencies and a few occupational shooters, and assault rifles are banned unless deactivated for possession of collectors. Air pistols are as restricted as rimfire and centerfire handguns. Carrying concealed weapons is severely restricted in Australia.

Since 1996 a number of additional gun restrictions have been imposed, including a 2002 National Firearms Trafficking Policy Agreement that increased penalties for illegal possession of firearms and tightened regulation of gun manufacturing. Additionally, in 1996-97 and in 2003 the federal government conducted gun buyback campaigns to round up illegal firearms.

Q.  How successful have Australia’s efforts to reduce the number of illegal firearms by buyback and amnesty programs been?

It depends upon whose interpretation of the statistics you believe. The 1996 compulsory and compensated buyback program netted about 700,000 firearms at an estimated cost of nearly $500 million. In 2003 the government, at a cost of $69 million, collected 50,000 handguns declared illegal under new gun control criteria, most of them with barrel sizes larger than 9 mm. But even gun control advocates criticized that program as pointless because most of the confiscated guns were legally replaced with target pistols that met the new specifications.

A University of Sydney study in 2006 found that the 1996 buyback program saw suicide and homicide deaths fall from an average of 521 a year to 289, "suggesting that the removal of more than 700,000 guns was associated with a faster declining rate of gun suicide and gun homicide.” The study said that that in the 18 years before the gun buyback there were an average of 492 firearm suicides a year, but after the buyback that figure dropped to an average of 247 annually in the seven years. The report claimed that the rate of gun homicides fell from an annual average of 93 in the 18 years before 1996 to an annual average of 56.

However, another study published in 2006 in the British Journal of Criminology by two Australian academics claimed that the buyback had virtually no effect on homicide rates. The authors said that gun homicide and suicide deaths were falling well before the buyback and the rate of decline hardly changed with the new laws. Controversy over the buyback plan intensified when one of the co-authors of the Sydney University study countered that 112 people had been killed in 11 mass shootings in Australia in the 10 years prior to the Port Arthur carnage, and that the banning and confiscating of semi-automatic weapons had all but eliminated such random mass shootings. The closest thing to a repeat of the 1996 killings at Port Arthur occurred in 2002 when an international student at Melbourne’s Monash University killed two fellow students with pistols that he had acquired as a member of a shooting club.

Q  What kind of opposition from politicians and gun owners was there to the restrictive gun laws enacted in Australia in 1996?

There was relatively little opposition, by American standards. Outraged public sentiment in favor of more gun controls immediately after the Port Arthur tragedy all but drowned out the somewhat subdued opposition from gun owner groups. Sensing the national mood, John Howard, the newly-elected prime minister from the conservative Liberal Party, quickly dusted off the gun-control recommendations made in a 1988 report by a national commission on violence and, with strong media and public support, asked the state governments to adopt them. Howard was passionate about restricting gun ownership even though his stance became a source of friction among the mostly rural members of the National Party that then was a part of the prime minister’s ruling coalition. In one interview immediately after the Port Arthur massacre, Howard said ordinary citizens should not have guns, adding, “We do not want the American disease imported into Australia.” Commenting on the 10th anniversary of the massacre, he said he admired much about America but that “one of the things I don’t admire about America is their…slavish love of guns. They’re evil.”

Pro-gun groups in Australia do not have nearly the kind of profile that they have in the United States. The largest group of gun owners, the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, has 120, 000 members, compared to the National Rifle Association’s 4 million members in America. The Sporting Shooters and several other groups—consisting mostly of target shooters and hunters—do not have anywhere near the fundraising and lobbying clout that the NRA has in America. Similarly, the gun control groups here have relatively few members, although they maintain a higher public profile and are active in lobbying for more restrictive gun legislation. The two most active gun control groups are Gun Control Australia and the National Coalition for Gun Control, which had a high profile immediately after the Port Arthur massacre.

Nine days after the shootings in Tucson, Gun Control Australia issued a statement declaring: “Americans are good at killing each other with guns. U.S. politicians are good at making it easy for them to do so.” The group added that “the real lesson of Arizona to us is to be strongly aware that there are established shooter groups here who want Australia to have American gun laws.”

Q. What are the historical and cultural differences between Australia and the United States that shape their sharply contrasting viewpoints on gun control?

In some ways the two countries are strikingly similar. Both are former British colonies whose early settlers pushed their frontiers westward across huge land masses, subduing hostile natives. Both countries’ pioneers had to rely on guns to survive in inhospitable territories, the Australians in the Outback and the Americans in the Wild West. Australians and Americans, particularly in rural areas, still share a strong ethos of self-reliance and rugged individualism and are wary of intrusion by their central governments.

On the other hand, there are striking differences. Although the two countries are similarly sized in land mass, Australia’s population of 22 million is a fraction of the U.S. population (2011 estimate: 310 million), making it, in theory, more manageable. Nearly three-quarters of Australians live in about a dozen large and medium-sized cities, mostly in the Pacific and Indian Ocean coastal regions. They tend to be comfortable with active federal government intervention rather than strong state sovereignty. Australia’s six states and two territories do not even levy income taxes, but instead the central government doles out the revenues it collects to the states for schools, hospitals, social welfare and other services, and plays an increasingly active role in managing those programs. Historically, Australia has had far stronger social democratic traditions than the U.S. Also, trade unions, through the Australian Labor Party, play a more prominent role here than they do in America.

It is no coincidence, then, that it was Australia’s federal government which seized the initiative on gun control following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, and not the state governments. There is no right to bear arms clause in Australia’s Constitution, no Second Amendment. In fact, Australia does not have a Bill of Rights, although it is widely regarded as having a good record on human rights. There are statutory protections of some rights, including freedom of religion and the right to vote, but judging from the widespread derision that many Australians are quick to aim at the U.S. Second Amendment, it is unlikely that a right to bear arms would ever become part of the perennial campaigns for a Bill of Rights here.

Q.  What became of Martin Bryant?

He was convicted and sentenced to 35 life sentences plus 1,035 years without parole and he is confined to a psychiatric wing of a Tasmania maximum security prison. He reportedly has attempted suicide six times.


You missed a Q.
Posted by John Hardin
01/30/2011, 08:44 PM

You missed a question: How has Australia's overall rate of violent crime changed since the ban was instituted?

Posted by BP
01/30/2011, 09:35 PM

So why hasn't Australia's close neighbor New Zealand had a shooting massacre in almost 14 years either? They still use the types of guns Australia banned, and they don't have to register their rifles and shotguns.

Posted by Jim In Houston
01/31/2011, 08:56 AM

You seem to have missed all kinds of information.

Numerous "civilized" countries with gun bans have higher crime rates than the US:

http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_tot_cri_perc ...

Violent crime in Australia and the UK are higher than in the US:

http://www.geoffmetcalf.com/guncontrol_20010302.ht ...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1196941/Th ...

Finally, there are PLENTY of massacres in those gun-free paradises:

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/06/10/john-lot ...

Posted by Mike the Limey
01/31/2011, 09:07 AM

You forgot to mention the rise in firearms crime, home invasions, violent crime & robberies that followed hot on the heels of Howard's gun ban.
How convenient.
Nore too the mass killing in Whitehaven, UK last year by my old mate Derrick Bird, using a .22rf & a shotgun.
Tell me how Australian style firearms restrictions would have made any difference where the laws are already far stricter.....

Progressive Hunter
Posted by Diamondback
01/31/2011, 09:49 AM

And that is why I live in America and NOT Australia.



Posted by Jarhead1982
01/31/2011, 10:03 AM

So lets see you post the suicide totals from prior to the ban to today and then you provide the exact details of how many suicides were prevented by removing that specific tool from hard government data or be branded the fool you prove to be by flapping your gums by writing this unsubstantiated opine!

Posted by Ceefour
01/31/2011, 10:07 AM

As time passes we get closer to that time when one more nut case wants to prove a point. Maybe he will use a firearm or maybe he will use explosives..who knows?? We do know that it will happen again in those "gunfreezones" no matter how many laws there are to prevent it.

You missed the obvious
Posted by BambiB
01/31/2011, 11:18 AM

According to the University of Leiden study on violence, Australia and Britain have the highest levels of violence in the western world. The US isn't even in the top 10.

The obvious point that the author misses is that on the day of the Tuscon shooting, 138 million armed Americans didn't shoot anyone.

Given that Australia's restrictions on firearms have led to much higher violent crime rates, while America's violent crime rates have been in decline (the disparity is much greater now than when the U of Leiden did its study), Australia is going to hell, while the US is improving. Why should anyone listen to you?

Posted by irishcoonass
01/31/2011, 11:48 AM

The Founding Fathers of the U.S. chose to fight (and ultimately defeat) the tyranny imposed upon them by the British empire. Without arms, the U.S. would still be a British colony.
Australia did not gain its independence by revoluting against and engaging the British empire in armed conflict. Whereas Australians remain the subjects of government, America's "We the People" are sovereign citizens with unalienable rights guaranteed to us in writng in our founding documents. One of those guarantees is "...the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
"A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government ." - George Washington, Commanding General Colonial Revolutionary Forces, U.S. President, British Traitor
That's why we're armed!

the difference
Posted by GlockGemini
01/31/2011, 02:55 PM

That must be the difference between being a sovereign citizen and a subject.

By the way you didn't mention actual crime rates, just the percentage of crimes involving guns. That was a smooth move because if you did mention the rise in crime rates and the actual crime rates, it would have completely destroyed your own argument. England and Australia have the highest violent crime rates of all industrialized nations. Nice going. Some day the subjects will wake up.

Posted by William Claiborne
01/31/2011, 03:35 PM

This piece was about guns, which are more lethal than fists or even knives. Of course overall violent crime in Australia has risen significantly since 1969. That's been attributed largely to the enormous spike in Australia in recent years in alcohol-fueled assaults with fists ("bashing") by young people at the relatively new rave clubs and huge "drinking barns" that have become so popular in the cities.But these people aren't playing out their violence with semi-automatic assault rifles with 30-round magazines, are they?
Simple assault like that has nothing to do with firearms.

Unarmed Victim zones.
Posted by Ronin 64
01/31/2011, 05:58 PM

Yet somehow the firearms remain not only in the hands of criminals, but are required by police as well...its just the mundane who no longer have the freedom to protect themselves.

Posted by JParks
02/01/2011, 02:07 PM

sheeple, sad. Enjoy your freedoms, while they last.

Another Question
Posted by Jaydee1958
02/01/2011, 04:16 PM

Bravo to Austrailia. They enacted strict gun laws and crime: home invasions,robberies, rape, murder all went up. So the question left out is: When are you outlawing cars? After all cars makes people drive drunk. Pencils mis-spell words all the time. Now the question: Is Austrailia going to outlaw cars and trucks when an idiot uses one to plow into a crowd and kills alot of people?

Posted by Barry Glasgow
02/01/2011, 08:00 PM

After reading your lengthy article on how guns "cause" so many problems in the US, I almost questioned my ownership of these evil devices.
Then I realized that most of my friends have guns too, and none of these hundreds of guns have ever caused any of us to inflict harm on anyone.

So I thought about it a bit more, and re-examined the many statistics you laid out to implicate guns in all this and something became very obvious - you never once mentioned the number of gun victims who were black and who had been shot by other blacks.
This struck me as odd since the drug/gang culture and its associated violence is so prevalent in the US (Just how prevalent is the gang culture in Australia?), so I wondered how you could have possibly missed that in such an extensively researched article.

Then it occurred to me, you're simply anti-gun, you don't care about good citizens' rights to protect themselves and you would rather see these rights stripped away by presenting misleading data.

The UK banned handguns decades ago and look where it got them, triple the gun crime and thrice the number of home invasions than the US.
People like you are clouding the issue which is preventing us from exploring real solutions.

Barry Glasgow
Woodlawn, Ontario

Posted by Anon.
02/01/2011, 08:56 PM

NZ hasn't had a massacre since Aramoana yet they still have the firearms legal in Australia before the laws were implemented.

Also, what about the Monash University shootings that followed in 2002? Looks like the 96 laws did a real good job of stopping that.

Could this massacre be set up?
Posted by Dr. Artour Rakhimov
12/03/2011, 07:14 PM

Media channels and most people promote a delusion that Martin Bryant did it because he was angry at something. That is nonsense since most people could be angry at somebody or unhappy about something. Being irritated or unhappy will not transform millions of other people into killers. What is the genuine cause then?
Back in Russia, I have seen people who would do anything, even murdering own children and close relatives, when they were brainwashed by GULAG KGB agents (a small part of KGB).
Many modern massacres as well as suicide-murders are done by the brainwashed because of mind control methods used by Russian GULAG KGB agents, who experimented with and attempted to brainwash over 10 million people (GULAG was the largest world’s mind control laboratory).
Other teams and organizations, like Arab terrorists, Al-Qaeda, CIA, etc., even if they all used together, didn't have even 1 per-cent of people to experiment with.
This webpage Mind Control and its links offer numerous examples how and why GULAG KGB agents organize massacres and murders using mind control techniques (real brainwashing) that creates obedient zombies.
Many of these rampage murderers, including Martin Bryant, can be totally innocent people since the majority people would do the very same just after being brainwashed.

Could this massacre be set up?
Posted by Dr. Artour Rakhimov
12/03/2011, 07:19 PM

Since the link to KGB Gulag web page was removed, here is URL:
http://www.normalbreathing.com/mind-control.php ...
If URL does not work, search the web for "kgb suicide murder" and you get those details.

Posted by Baggage
02/18/2012, 10:35 AM

I'm not anti gun control. I believe there should be strong controls to prevent people with serious criminal records or mental issues to ever possess firearms. However your facts, figures and even the places it took place are straight out incorrect. Port Arthur is not in Melbourne. In fact it's not even on the mainland. Also the firearms were stolen from somebody else who was licensed to own them, not bought without a license. If these two major facts are wrong, what else have you screwed up.

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