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THAT'S NOT A KNIFE

There’s more than just a semi-automatic gun ban behind Australia’s plummeting homicide rate

Reuters/David Gray
A Sydney gun store owner packs up after the 1996 ban.
  • Heather Timmons
By Heather Timmons

White House correspondent

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

The latest Australian crime statistics (pdf), released Feb. 5, show an overall drop in homicides to a record low of 1.1 incidents per 100,000 people in the 2010-2012 fiscal year, and a negligible increase to 1.2 incidents in 2011-2012. Overall, homicides in Australia have declined by about 20 percent in the past 22 years:

Australia Bureau of Statistics

That compares to 5.1 homicides per 100,000 people in the US  in 2013, of which 3.5 were gun-related. Gun suicides and mass shootings in particular declined drastically in the years after Australia outlawed long-barreled semi-automatic guns in 1996 in response to a mass shooting that left 35 people dead.

Since the law was passed, Australia has had exactly zero mass shootings, defined as five or more people dead. Civilian firearm ownership in the country is 15 per 100 individuals, which contrasts with 101.5 per 100 people in the US.

Australia’s semiautomatic gun ban has often been discussed as a potential model for the US to follow to reduce mass shooting incidents, and is held up by local politicians and crime experts as key reason for dropping crime rates. “Certainly the gun buyback in the mid ’90s removed close to a million firearms from the Australian public,” an Institute of Criminology researcher said the last time the government released homicide statistics. “So with a decreased availability of firearms, there’s been a commensurate reduction in the number of firearm-related homicides in Australia.”

But why homicides are still dropping nearly 20 years after that ban is unclear. In fact, while the percentage of deaths attributed to firearms has generally tapered down since the ban, there was a slight uptick in the latest years:

A more complete explanation for why homicide rates continue to drop could be the overall fall in crime in developed countries  in recent years, which in Australia has manifested itself in a big drop in nearly all violent crimes. The global drop has explained by everything from lower numbers of rowdy youth to better home security systems, and in Australia by an ongoing police crackdown on bars with a history of violent assaults.

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