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Gun control after school shootings: Lessons from around the globe

Australia enacted tougher gun laws and saw a drop in school shootings to zero. After the 1998 hand gun ban, the United Kingdom saw a rise in gun-related crimes.  Do gun controls reduce gun-related crime?

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The slaughter sparked outrage across the country and within 12 days federal and state governments had agreed to impose strict new gun laws, including a ban on semi-automatic rifles like the Colt AR-15 used by the Tasmania killer. The Connecticut killer used a similar, rapid-firing weapon.

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Gun ownership was restricted to people with genuine need or sporting shooters with gun club membership. Some 700,000 guns were bought back and destroyed by the federal government from owners who no longer qualified to possess them.

The changes were unpopular with politicians from rural areas with high numbers of hunters and farmers. But, as in Britain after Dunblane, the strength of public opinion swayed politicians from both government and opposition parties.

Gun laws also were strengthened in Canada after the 1989 slaying of 14 female engineering students in Montreal by a woman-hating gunman, and in Germany after a 19-year-old expelled student killed 16 people, including 12 teachers, in Erfurt in 2002.

Even gun-loving Finland — with 45 firearms for every 100 people — tightened its laws after two school shootings in 2007 and 2008, raising the minimum age for firearms ownership and giving police greater powers to make background checks on individuals applying for a gun license.

Did it work? In Australia's case, the change appears dramatic. There were a dozen mass shootings with at least five deaths in the country between 1981 and the Tasmania massacre; there have been none in the 16 years since.

Studies have tracked a reduction in gun deaths in Australia since the 1996 reforms, particularly in suicides. The journal Injury Prevention reported in 2006 that the risk of dying by gunshot had halved in Australia in a decade.

In 2010 in Australia, there were 0.1 gun murders per 100,000 people, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, less than half the rate of a decade earlier. In the United States the murder rate was more than 30 times higher, at 3.2 per 100,000.

The connection looks simple — countries with tighter gun laws and fewer guns have lower levels of gun crime.

But experts say it is not quite so straightforward.

"The irony in the U.K. is that in the four years from 1998 when handguns were fully banned, gun crime continued to rise," said Peter Squires, a professor of criminology at the University of Brighton. "We were in a phase in the 1990s when street gangs were becoming the new urban disorder ... and we were hit by a whole new problem of converted and replica and reactivated guns."

In the long run Squire thinks the change in law did make a difference. Gun crime in Britain has been falling since its peak in 2002 — a decline also seen in other Western countries — and there are now only a few dozen firearms homicides each year.

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