Australian Gun Control: Assessing a Massive Gun Buy-Back

Peter H. Reuter, University of Maryland at College Park
Jenny Mouzos, University of Maryland at College Park

In 1996 in response to the largest of a series of mass homicide incidents (in Port Arthur with 35 victims), the federal and state governments of Australia agreed on a broad plan of gun control, implemented over the following twelve months. The new controls included prohibitions on certain categories of firearms, to be supplemented by a large-scale buyback of those weapons. Three features of this experience make it of interest to U.S. gun control scholars. First, in a federal system there was unanimous agreement by all the relevant governments to make changes that were very consistent across states, rapidly implemented and extremely far -reaching. It offers an instance of gun control in a situation of high salience, with strong political support and competent execution. Second, the gun buyback program was vastly larger and better funded than comparable efforts in the United States. About 650,000 guns were bought back an average price of $US300 each; this may have represented 20 percent of the total stock of firearms. Third, there is little evidence that the interventions much affected the extent of violent crime. Unfortunately, with only 8 jurisdictions and three years of post-intervention of data and no useful sub-state data, it is impossible to do a powerful evaluation. There were no reductions in homicides or suicides, only a shift toward less use of guns. Given that the newly prohibited guns, the object of the buy-back program, were not much used in either homicide or suicide before the prohibition or buy-back, this is hardly surprising and is consistent with evidence from the British experience in 1988 and 1997.

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Updated 05/20/2006