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

Teens get more sleep with later school start time, researchers find

December 12, 2018
When Seattle Public Schools announced that it would reorganize school start times across the district for the fall of 2016, the massive undertaking took more than a year to deploy. Elementary schools started earlier, while ...

Large restaurant portions a global problem, study finds

December 12, 2018
A new multi-country study finds that large, high-calorie portion sizes in fast food and full service restaurants is not a problem unique to the United States. An international team of researchers found that 94 percent of ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Yes please to yoghurt and cheese: The new improved Mediterranean diet

December 11, 2018
Thousands of Australians can take heart as new research from the University of South Australia shows a dairy-enhanced Mediterranean diet will significantly increase health outcomes for those at risk of cardiovascular disease ...

Effect of oral alfacalcidol on clinical outcomes in patients without secondary hyperparathyroidism

December 11, 2018
Treatment with active vitamin D did not decrease cardiovascular events in kidney patients undergoing hemodialysis, according to a research group in Japan. They have reported their research results in the December 11 issue ...

Licence to Swill: James Bond's drinking over six decades

December 10, 2018
He may be licensed to kill but fictional British secret service agent James Bond has a severe alcohol use disorder, according to an analysis of his drinking behaviour published in the Medical Journal of Australia's Christmas ...

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.