Australia hasn't witnessed a single mass shooting since a massacre 10 years ago prompted nationwide gun law reforms, according to a study Thursday that linked the tough laws with a dramatic reduction in firearm deaths.
The federal and state governments agreed to ban semiautomatic and pump action shot guns and rifles days after a lone gunman went on a rampage at the Port Arthur tourist precinct in Tasmania state on April 28, 1996, killing 35 and wounding another 18.
The massacre was the 13th mass shooting in Australia in 15 years. Mass shootings had killed 104 victims and wounded another 52 since 1981, according to the University of Sydney report published Thursday in the journal Injury Prevention.
The federal government responded to the Port Arthur massacre by funding a gun buyback scheme. More than 700,000 guns were surrendered by Australia's adult population of 12 million.
The study found the buyback coincided with an end to mass shootings and dramatic decreases in shooting deaths in Australia.
“The Australian example provides evidence that removing large numbers of firearms from a community can be associated with a sudden and ongoing decline in mass shootings and accelerated declines in total firearms-related deaths, firearm homicides and firearm suicides,” the report concluded.
The report said it could not directly comment on the association between the new gun laws and firearm death rates because of the observational nature of the available data.
Prime Minister John Howard welcomed the report as proof that his gun buyback had been a success.
“Gun-related deaths in Australia are still too high but this study shows that governments and the community can make a difference,” Mr. Howard said in a statement.
Peter Whelan, president of the Australian lobby group Coalition of Law Abiding Sporting Shooters Inc., said that attributing the improved statistics to the buyback and tough laws was a “gross distortion.”
The report ignored factors such as whether Australians were resorting to other methods to kill or commit suicide, he said.
“For example, suicide by hanging has increased dramatically,” Mr. Whelan told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
But the researchers, headed by Prof. Simon Chapman, a former member of the national anti-firearm lobby group Coalition for Gun Control, found there was no evidence of method substitution in homicides or suicides since guns became more restricted.
The report found that gun-related deaths per capita had been declining 3 per cent annually in the 18 years before the new gun laws were announced. That rate of decline doubled to 6 per cent in the seven years after the new laws were introduced.
The annual reduction in firearm homicides accelerated from 3 to 7.5 per cent annually and firearm suicides, from 3 to 7.4 per cent, the report found.
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