With each tragic mass shooting, there is a flurry of cries by liberals to enact new gun control laws based on the argument populations with higher gun ownership tend to have more gun-related homicides and suicides. Similarly, folks on the right counter that restricting gun ownership would lead to more crime. Frequently, both sides point to Australia’s gun buyback program in 1996 to support these arguments. For context, Australia introduced its gun buyback program in response to the Port Arthur massacre in which 35 people were killed and 23 were wounded.
In the case of Australia, both sides are right.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a year after the 1996 gun buyback, gun-related homicides declined by 23%. During the same period, armed robberies increased by nearly 45%, unarmed robberies were up 21%, and kidnapping and abductions increased by 18%. While there was a slight decline in the number of sexual assaults in 1997, they increased dramatically in the following four years.
In summary, the number of gun-related homicides unquestionably declined in the five years following Australia’s gun buyback program while the number of armed robberies, unarmed robberies, and sexual assaults increased (see the chart above).
So whichever side you find yourself on in the current gun control debate, at least you will now have some of the salient facts on the Australian gun buyback program. In the end, it boils down to one argument: If Australia’s experience is in any way generalizable with our own (and it may very well not be), would you rather risk more gun-related deaths to preserve gun rights and keep crime low, or tolerate more crime to reduce gun-related deaths?