October 3, 2015

PRO-LIFE OR PRO-GUN?:

Australia confiscated 650,000 guns. Murders and suicides plummeted. (Zack Beauchamp, October 2, 2015, Vox)

Howard persuaded both his coalition and Australia's states (the country has a federal system) to agree to a sweeping, nationwide reform of gun laws. The so-called National Firearms Agreement (NFA), drafted the month after the shooting, sharply restricted legal ownership of firearms in Australia. It also established a registry of all guns owned in the country, among other measures, and required a permit for all new firearm purchases.

One of the most significant provisions of the NFA was a flat-out ban on certain kinds of guns, such as automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. But there were already a number of such guns in circulation in Australia, and the NFA required getting them off the streets.

Australia solved this problem by introducing a mandatory buyback: Australia's states would take away all guns that had just been declared illegal. In exchange, they'd pay the guns' owners a fair price, set by a national committee using market value as a benchmark, to compensate for the loss of their property. The NFA also offered legal amnesty for anyone who handed in illegally owned guns, though they weren't compensated. [...]

In 2011, Harvard's David Hemenway and Mary Vriniotis reviewed the research on Australia's suicide and homicide rate after the NFA. Their conclusion was clear: "The NFA seems to have been incredibly successful in terms of lives saved."

What they found is a decline in both suicide and homicide rates after the NFA. The average firearm suicide rate in Australia in the seven years after the bill declined by 57 percent compared with the seven years prior. The average firearm homicide rate went down by about 42 percent.

Now, Australia's homicide rate was already declining before the NFA was implemented -- so you can't attribute all of the drops to the new laws. But there's good reason to believe the NFA, especially the buyback provisions, mattered a great deal in contributing to those declines.

"First," Hemenway and Vriniotis write, "the drop in firearm deaths was largest among the type of firearms most affected by the buyback. Second, firearm deaths in states with higher buyback rates per capita fell proportionately more than in states with lower buyback rates."

There is also this: 1996 and 1997, the two years in which the NFA was actually implemented, saw the largest percentage declines in the homicide rate in any two-year period in Australia between 1915 and 2004.

Pinning down exactly how much the NFA contributed is harder. One study concluded that buying back 3,500 guns per 100,000 people correlated with up to a 50 percent drop in firearm homicides. But as Dylan Matthews points out, the results were not statistically significant because Australia has a pretty low number of murders already.

However, the paper's findings about suicide were statistically significant -- and astounding. Buying back 3,500 guns correlated with a 74 percent drop in firearm suicides. Non-gun suicides didn't increase to make up the decline.

There is good reason why gun restrictions would prevent suicides. As Matthews explains in great depth, suicide is often an impulsive choice, one often not repeated after a first attempt. Guns are specifically designed to kill people effectively, which makes suicide attempts with guns likelier to succeed than (for example) attempts with razors or pills. Limiting access to guns makes each attempt more likely to fail, thus making it more likely that people will survive and not attempt to harm themselves again.

Bottom line: Australia's gun buyback saved lives, probably by reducing homicides and almost certainly by reducing suicides. 

The well-regulated militias, on the other hand, have an explicit constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

Posted by at October 3, 2015 8:36 AM
  

blog comments powered by Disqus
« PERILOUSLY CLOSE TO INSIGHT: | Main | OUR REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT: »