4:55 PM CST, January 18, 2013
After a mass shooting in 1996, Australia enacted a sweeping package of gun restrictions far more ambitious than anything plausible here -- including a total ban on semiautomatic weapons, a mandatory gun buyback, and strict limits on who could own a firearm. John Howard, who was prime minister at the time, wrote the other day that his country "is safer today as a consequence of gun control."
You would think such dramatic new restrictions were bound to help. But the striking thing is how little effect they had on gun deaths.
It's true the homicide rate fell after the law took effect -- but it had also been falling long before that. A study published by the liberal Brookings Institution noted that the decline didn't accelerate after 1996. Same for lethal accidents. Suicide didn't budge. At most, they conclude "there may" -- may -- "have been a modest effect on homicide rates."
Researchers at the University of Melbourne, however, found no such improvement as a result of the new system. "There is little evidence to suggest that it had any significant effects on firearm homicides or suicides," they wrote.
Howard says the country has had no mass shootings since 1996. But mass shootings are such a tiny share of all homicides that any connection may be purely a matter of chance.
We learned from the 1994 assault weapons ban that modest gun control measures don't work. What Australia suggests is that even if radical ones could be passed, they wouldn't work either.
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