In 1996, Australia experienced a mass shooting so devastating that they swiftly enacted a mandatory gun buyback program which took a vast majority of guns out of circulation. Many references are made to this legislation and its results, on both sides of the American gun debate. But as is the case with most news and statistics floating around on the Internet, you can seldom trust who has done their homework on the data, who has an agenda, or who is just making up numbers. As the old, wise saying goes, if you want something done right, do it yourself. So I did my own searching online and it didn’t take long for me to find a wealth of valuable, unbiased, and trustworthy information, direct from the Australian government.
I found a site (http://www.aic.gov.au/) run by the Australian Institute of Criminology, a department of the Australian government. They provide statistics and data on all crime in Australia, and the criteria are very customizable. The most popular fact quoted about the gun ban of 1996 is that Australia has not had a single mass shooting event since. That is undeniable fact (and certainly is good news) and, by itself, seems to indicate that the answer to violence is simply to remove guns from a society. Simple statistics like that play to our emotions and sound great, but they only scratch the surface of the larger picture. So let’s dig a little deeper and consider the following 6 charts:
The first chart below shows the actual number of homicides in Australia from 1993-2012. This data is not specific to guns, but any homicide, whether committed with a weapon or not. Since the 1996 gun ban, some years had slightly higher numbers, and some had slightly lower numbers, but they all hovered around the 300 mark. For a society with a gun ban in place, I would expect a dramatic decrease in homicides, but that did not happen. This data shows that the gun ban had little or no effect in deterring those with a desire to kill.
Figure 1. This data and its chart is available at http://www.aic.gov.au/.
Let’s look at how the gun ban affected armed robberies in the chart below. After the 1996 ban, armed robberies did not decrease at all but actually increased, and by dramatic amounts, from 6,256 in 1996 to over 9,000 and 10,000 and 11,000 in the 5 years after the gun ban. This suggests that an unarmed, law abiding population makes for easier prey for criminals.
Figure 2.This data and its chart is available at http://www.aic.gov.au/.
What about unarmed robbery? The chart below shows those numbers also rose dramatically after the gun ban, indicating that a criminal does not need a gun or any weapon to commit their desired crime. These numbers again suggest that criminal activity increases when the population is unarmed and unable to properly defend themselves.
Figure 3.This data and its chart is available at http://www.aic.gov.au/.
Let’s look at sexual assaults. The chart below shows that sexual assaults also increased after the 1996 gun ban, and again, suggest it is easier for criminals to assault someone when those victims aren’t allowed a weapon to protect themselves.
Figure 4.This data and its chart is available at http://www.aic.gov.au/.
The chart below combines all the data above into one chart showing total violent crime numbers of homicide, sexual assault and robbery. One might think, after a near total gun ban and confiscation in a society, that violent crime numbers would go down dramatically. I’m actually quite surprised that the numbers increased to this degree. By 2001, total violent crime numbers nearly DOUBLED from the years before the gun ban. Even worse, the total violent crime numbers have been higher EVERY year since the 1996 ban. EVERY YEAR.
Figure 5. This data is available at http://www.aic.gov.au/dataTools/facts/vicViolentCol.html. The site did not provide its own graphical bar chart representing these totals, so I compiled the numbers from the available data and created the chart.
The last chart below shows the percentage of homicides where a firearm was used. 1996 was the largest year by far, which was the year the last mass killing happened and when the ban was proposed and instituted. Outside of that year, the usage of firearms remains relatively consistent, in the 15-20 percent range. With a few down years in between, the percentage of firearms used in homicides in 2010, 2011 and 2012 is virtually the same as it was in 1995, before the gun ban was put in place.
Figure 6. This data is available at http://www.aic.gov.au/dataTools/facts/weaponSpecified.html. The site did not provide its own graphical bar chart representing these totals, so I used the available data and created the chart.
One would imagine there would be some immediate or significant decrease in homicides and violent crime after guns are removed from a society, but the data from the Australian government does not support that. It’s great that there has never been another mass killing, but that is only a small part of a much larger picture.
The unfortunate fact of life is that there are some people in the world who will not hesitate to harm others for their own selfish gain. This is simple human behavior. It is not a matter of the number or type of weapons available in a society, but what kind of values are present in its people. A monastery or convent filled with military weapons would still remain peaceful because the people inside are peaceful. But when you remove the weapon from the hands of an angry and violent person, what you are left with is still an angry and violent person. The creativity of the human mind is unlimited in its ability to devise, plan and carry out violence, regardless of the availability of any one particular weapon.
No differently than having access to a fire extinguisher in your home that you never wish to need, we would be wise to prepare ourselves and our children for the dangers of the real world around us. It is foolish to simply hope it won’t happen to you or your loved ones, and equally foolish to rely solely on others (police) to always be there in an emergency to bail you out of a crisis.
I believe the best tools to combat violence in any society is a balanced approach of:
a) Kindness, respect, compassion, understanding and forgiveness, and
b) Learning how to defend yourself from those who don’t share those peaceful values.
Neither of those is complete without the other. Stay educated and stay safe. Peace.