FOCUS on firearm legislation: Australia

Adam Varoqua

Staff Writer

The National Firearms Agreement (NFA), a series of  gun control laws that strictly regulate the ownership of semi-automatic and automatic firearms, heavily influenced Australia’s gun control policies, Vox reports. The NFA’s pivotal point of enforcement was the institution of a gun buyback program, which resulted in the government buying about 650,000 guns from gun owners.

The firearms purchased in this program were destroyed upon collection, which represented the elimination of 20 percent of privately owned guns within the country. The NFA even banned ownership of certain types of guns, such as shotguns and automatic firearms, with very limited exceptions.

   According to NBC News, the NFA’s passage was brought on by a watershed moment: Australia’s Port Arthur Massacre. The massacre occurred in 1996 when Martin Bryant entered a café located in Port Arthur, Tasmania. Bryant proceeded to pull out a gun and start firing. His killing-spree which resulted in the death of 35 people earned its infamous reputation as the most lethal mass-murderer in Australian history.

After the massacre, the Australian government quickly introduced the NFA, reports NBC. The Prime Minister at that time, Conservative Party member John Howard, was criticized heavily for the law’s passage. “The laws had widespread public support but faced fierce opposition from some rural supporters … because they believed they were unfairly paying a price for the misdeeds of others,” Howard said to NBC.

Howard went on to remark the NFA’s effectiveness and public good it has raised within the country. He said, “All the credible research both in Australia and elsewhere shows that the gun control laws have markedly reduced gun-related deaths.”

What followed from the NFA was a decline in both the homicide and suicide rate. Homicides decreased by 47 percent within seven years of the law’s passage while the suicide rate decreasing by as much as 57 percent, Vox reports. Within the NFA’s first two years of implementation, Australia experienced the sharpest reduction in homicides it has ever documented.

  As the University of Sydney reports though, not every state within Australia has fully adhered to the NFA. For example, New South Wales allows people to have silencers and go for firearm training even without a firearms license, both of which the NFA prohibits. “Every jurisdiction has slipped backward by varying degrees,” Associate Professor Philip Alpers of the School of Public Health of the University of Sydney, said. “New South Wales is the most obvious example of compliance ‘slippage’.”

According to the Washington Post, a study that examined the NFA’s effectiveness on reducing homicide rates was not found to be statistically significant. However, the study did find that the decline in suicide rates was statistically significant. Furthermore, Fortune reports, reduction of overall gun violence and prevention of further mass shootings were apparent after the Australian government took action. Since the NFA’s inception in 2005, Australia has experienced only one mass shooting, a stark contrast to just 18 years prior to the law’s passage, in which 13 mass shootings occurred.


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