Sunday 28 April 1996 was a day that changed Australia forever. Port Arthur a long abandoned former penal colony turned historical tourist attraction was transformed into the setting for the most horrific massacre, in a string of 13 mass shootings that had punctuated the previous 15 years with days of less horrific massacres. Port Arthur made Australians realize they couldn't tolerate letting this blood drenched pattern to continue.
THE PORT ARTHUR MASSACRE
On Sunday 28 April 1996, the historic site of the Port Arthur penal colony in south-eastern Tasmania attracted hundreds of visitors. At lunchtime the Broad Arrow Cafe was full. 28 year old Martin Bryant from Hobart entered the cafe, ordered and ate a big lunch, then pulled a semi-automatic rifle out of his bag and started shooting indiscriminately at tourists and staff. Within 15 seconds, 17 shots had been fired, 12 were dead and 10 injured. By the time Bryant had finished his rampage, he had killed 35 people using a range of semi-automatic weapons in and around Port Arthur. The newly-elected Howard government sat for the first time the following week. By May 10, all state and territory ministers had agreed to heavily restrict the ownership and use of self-loading rifles, self-loading and pump-action shotguns. A gun buy-back scheme was initiated, funded by a temporary increase in the Medicare levy. Some 643,000 firearms were handed in at a cost of $350 million.
Not HereAustralia’s 1996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearm deaths, firearm suicides, and a decade without mass shootings
By Stephen Metcalf
As a nation in no small part ancestored by convicts, Australia has a sober relationship to criminality, and the country’s response to the Port Arthur massacre was magnificent in its sobriety. The federal government enacted strict gun control laws and initiated a massive firearms buyback program. (In the 18 years prior to the Port Arthur massacre, Australia experienced 14 mass shootings; in the subsequent 16 years, there have been none.) But the reaction to the Port Arthur tragedy went beyond legislation and into a serious attempt to understand the causes of the “civil massacre,” as it’s labeled in the literature, an effort that began more or less immediately. The Port Arthur perpetrator had been assigned a defense psychiatrist named Paul Mullen. When Mullen first interviewed the shooter, he was struck by his repeated queries about the death toll: He wanted to know if he had exceeded the body count of the Dunblane massacre in Scotland, which had occurred six weeks earlier.
Mullen had a suspicion about his client’s repellent one-upmanship, and his research confirmed it: that civil massacres were by their nature copycat crimes, “modeled,” as Mullen has since written, “on Rambo-like images and informed by knowledge, and occasionally study, of prior massacres.” While it is true that civil massacres occurred throughout the 20th century, they were rare until the mid-1960s, when the phenomenon took a grimly familiar shape with the so-called “tower sniper.” The incident at the University of Texas, in which a former Marine held the Austin campus under siege from a bell tower, received massive media attention and was even turned into a well-known TV movie. It provided, according to Mullen, a kind of ritualized script (Mullen’s word) that civil massacres have followed ever since.
Lessons from the Port Arthur Massacre Ignored by the U.S.
Australians reacted, of course, with shock, horror, and profound grief. At first, state governments were reluctant to enact stricter gun laws that would severely restrict the availability of firearms. As in America, the far-right fringe groups tried to use citizen anger to oppose new gun laws. However, after discovering that the Christian Coalition and U.S. National Rifle Association were supporting the gun lobby, the Government and media cited their support for more restrictive laws, along with the moral outrage of the community, to discredit the gun lobby as extremists.
What John Howard could teach the US about gun control
NIVERSITY OF SYDNEY PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC HEALTH SIMON CHAPMAN WRITES:
In the 12 years since the law reforms, there have been no mass shootings. But there is also evidence of wider collateral benefits in reduced gun deaths overall. While the rate of firearm homicide was reducing in Australia by an average of 3% per year prior to the law reforms, this more than doubled to 7.5% per year after the introduction of the new laws, although to the delight of our local gun lobby, this failed to reach statistical significance simply because of the low statistical power inherent in the small numbers involved.
Having more guns around seems to be associated with more gun suicides, and more suicides overall. A paper published in this week’s prestigious New England Journal of Medicine compares gun suicide rates in the 15 US states with the highest rate (47%) of household ownership with six states with the lowest rates (15%). While the rates of non-firearm suicide were equal in these two groups, the states with high gun ownership had 3.7 times more male gun suicides and 7.9 times more female gun suicides than the low gun ownership states.Australia is a brilliant example of how a country can shed its culture of gun violence. When naysayers say restricting guns can't make any real difference you can tell them what the people of Australia accomplished by holding their politicians feet to the fire.
The USA has 14.3 times Australia’s population, 104 times our total firearm-caused deaths (30,143 in 2005 vs 289 in 2003), and 294 times Australia’s firearm homicide rate (12,352 in 2005 vs just 42 in 2005/06). In 1979, 705 people died from gunshots in Australia. Despite population growth, in 2003, this number had fallen to 289.
Gun lobby affiliated researchers in Australia have sought to repudiate these outcomes using embarrassingly naïve methods that have been heavily criticised in the research literature. While news of the latest gun massacre in the United States remains depressingly common, Australians today enjoy one of the safest communities on earth. John Howard’s first and most popular law reform stands as the world’s most successful reform of gun laws.
Also check out coolelegans: Australia shows the way forward on gun control It has some good charts on what happened in Australia following its semi-auto gun ban.