Gun laws stopped mass shootings in Australia—new research

March 12, 2018, American College of Physicians

The odds of a 22-year absence of mass shootings in Australia since 1996 gun reforms being due to chance are one in 200,000, new research reveals.

Published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine, scholars at the University of Sydney and Macquarie University used mathematical techniques to test the null hypothesis that the rate of in Australia before and after the 1996 law reforms is unchanged.

The National Firearms Agreement, enacted after the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania in which 35 died and another 23 were seriously injured, saw the destruction of more than a million firearms—perhaps a third of the country's private gun stock.

The Agreement included uniform gun registration, repudiation of self-defense as a legitimate reason to hold a firearm license, mandatory locked storage, a ban on mail order sales and standardized penalties, and the banning of semi-automatic rifles and pump action shot guns from civilian ownership.

Its provisions were subsequently enacted in national, state and territory legislation across Australia.

In the 18 years up to and including the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, there were 13-gun homicides in which five or more people died, not including the perpetrator. In the 22 years since, there have been no such incidents.

"Most people hear these starkly contrasting numbers and conclude that Australia's gun law reforms effectively stopped firearm massacres here," says the paper's lead author, Emeritus Professor Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney.

"However, some scholars and members of the gun lobby have argued that since shootings are relatively rare events, the concentration of incidents in one decade and their absence in another decade is merely a statistical anomaly."

For example, Australian researcher Dr Samara McPhedran writing in The Conversation said: "Mass shootings are rare events, and the long gap between incidents post-1996 may simply reflect a return to a more 'normal' state of affairs, similar to the years before 1987."

"This was no accident," says the new study's co-author Associate Professor Philip Alpers, from the University of Sydney. "Australia followed standard public health procedures to reduce the risk of multiple events, and we can see the evidence. It worked.

"Gun lobby-affiliated and other researchers have been saying for years that mass shootings are such rare events it could have been a matter of luck they dropped off in the wake of Australia's ," says Alpers. "Instead, we found the odds against this hypothesis are 200,000 to one."

In related news, Tasmania's re-elected Premier has defended the Liberals' policy to relax the state's gun laws, despite an outcry from survivors of the Port Arthur shooting.

Explore further: Australia 20 years after gun reform—no mass shootings, declining firearm deaths

More information: Annals of Internal Medicine (2018). DOI: 10.7326/M18-0503

Related Stories

Australia 20 years after gun reform—no mass shootings, declining firearm deaths

June 22, 2016
Since gun law reform and the Firearms Buyback program 20 years ago, Australia has seen an accelerating decline in intentional firearm deaths and an absence of fatal mass shootings, the Journal of the American Medical Association ...

US citizens living near a mass public shooting more likely to favour stricter gun control, study finds

October 3, 2017
People living near a mass shooting in the United States of America are more likely to support stricter gun controls, new research has found.

Why have female gun homicides in Australia declined significantly since 1996?

November 3, 2017
When Australians think about the 1996 gun reforms that followed the Port Arthur massacre, it is usually the big-ticket changes – like bans and "buybacks" – that get the most attention. But, sometimes, small changes can ...

Recommended for you

It's not just for kids—even adults appear to benefit from a regular bedtime

September 21, 2018
Sufficient sleep has been proven to help keep the body healthy and the mind sharp. But it's not just an issue of logging at least seven hours of Z's.

Most nations falling short of UN targets to cut premature deaths from chronic diseases

September 21, 2018
People in the UK, US and China have a higher risk of dying early from conditions like cancer, heart disease and stroke than people in Italy, France, South Korea and Australia.

Patient-centered visual aid helps physicians discuss risks, treatments with parents

September 21, 2018
A series of illustrations and charts designed as decision aids for parents of children with minor head injuries helped them communicate with emergency medicine physicians and make informed decisions about their child's care, ...

Alcohol responsible for one in 20 deaths worldwide: WHO

September 21, 2018
Alcohol kills three million people worldwide each year—more than AIDS, violence and road accidents combined, the World Health Organization said Friday, adding that men are particularly at risk.

Smart pills dumb down medical care, experts warn

September 21, 2018
Enthusiasm for an emerging digital health tool, the smart pill, is on the rise but researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have published a paper in the American Journal of Bioethics that cautions health care ...

China's doctor shortage prompts rush for AI health care

September 20, 2018
Qu Jianguo, 64, had a futuristic medical visit in Shanghai as he put his wrist through an automated pulse-taking machine and received the result within two minutes on a mobile phone—without a doctor present.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Mar 12, 2018
The mention of the 'softening' of gun laws proposed by the Tasmanian government. One should note that this softening still places Tasmania well within national gun laws and relates only to extending licences from 5 to 10 years, allowing farmers to use silencers on rifles and allowing some of the more restricted weapons (Category E) to be used by registered specialists.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.