Should the U.S. adopt Australia’s strict gun laws?

By James D. Agresti
December 20, 2012

In the aftermath of the Dark Knight shooting in Aurora, Colorado, media outlets were awash with misleading claims about violence and firearms. Since the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, some of the same false assertions are being repeated, but another has emerged as a common talking point: this is the claim that Australia’s 1996 gun laws and government-funded gun buyback prove such policies are effective in stemming violence. Versions of this narrative have recently been circulated by ABC News, the New York Times, CNN, Slate, the Huffington Post, and countless other smaller outlets.

ABC News, for an example, published an article entitled, “Will Lessons From Down Under Stem the Undertaker Here?” In this piece, correspondent Nick Schifrin reports that strict Australia gun laws passed in 1996 have proved “extremely effective. In the last 16 years, the risk of dying by gunshot in Australia has fallen by more than 50 percent. The national rate of gun homicide is one-thirtieth that of the United States.”

Statistics like these do more to mislead than inform. First, a simple comparison of current firearm homicide rates between countries cannot possibly establish the impact of their gun control laws. This is because there are numerous other factors endemic to each country that impact homicide rates, such as their law enforcement and criminal justice systems, the portion of children raised in single-parent households, poverty rates, and many other relevant variables. Schifrin’s argument is analogous to an argument made by the NRA that right-to-carry states have a 28% lower murder rate than the rest of the country. Such statistics tell us little. To provide any legitimate indication of the effects of gun laws, before-and-after comparisons are almost always necessary.

Schifrin does provide a before-and-after comparison of the “risk of dying by gunshot in Australia” over the past 16 years, but this is deceptive because it accounts for lives taken with guns while failing to account for lives saved with guns. As shown in several studies summarized in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, in the vast majority of cases where someone uses a gun for self-defense, a bullet is never even fired because the would-be assailant retreats when he discovers that his target is armed. Schifrin’s “risk of dying by gunshot” statistic fails to account for such scenarios.

The “risk of dying by gunshot” statistic also fails to account for weapons substitution, which occurs when murderers use whatever weapons are readily available to them. Would someone judge a gun control law to be a success if every averted gun murder were replaced by another type of murder? Of course not, but the press commonly cites statistics that fail to account for such outcomes. For these reasons, to assess the full effects of gun laws on homicides, one must look at all homicides, not just those committed with firearms.

The homicide data does not fit the storyline commonly advanced by the media. Quite to the contrary, the data shows that U.S. homicide rates have dropped more rapidly since the federal ban on assault weapons expired than homicide rates dropped in Australia after its strict gun laws were implemented. To be precise, seven full calendar years have transpired since the federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines elapsed in 2004, and over this entire period, the U.S. murder rate has averaged 3.9% lower than it was when the ban expired. Correspondingly, in the seven years that followed the implementation of Australia’s gun laws in 1997, the Australian murder rate averaged 0.4% lower than it was when the laws took effect.

If association equals causation—as the ABC article suggests—the expiration of the federal assault weapons ban was 10 times more effective in reducing homicides than the enactment of Australia’s tight gun laws and gun buyback. Of course, cause and effect cannot be proved because many other factors affect murder rates, and it is practically impossible to accurately isolate all of these effects. Nevertheless, the above graph allows us to observe trends and constrains the impact of many variables because the data is drawn from large population sets with limited demographic changes from year to year.

The other media outlets cited above draw similarly flawed conclusions based upon data from Australia. The New York Times editorial board also points to “a decline in murders involving firearms” that occurred after “the British government banned all private ownership of automatic weapons and virtually all handguns” in 1996. What the editors fail to mention is that homicide rates, which were relatively low to begin with, actually increased in the wake of this ban. Again, this does not prove cause and effect, but it does prove that the Times storyline is not founded in objective reality.

Other fallacies about violence and guns that are being propagated by media outlets include claims that “assault rifles” are legal in the U.S. and that guns are ineffective for self-defense. These and other falsehoods were addressed after the Dark Knight shooting in an article from Just Facts.

In the words of a major gun control analysis published by the National Academies of Science, “Drawing causal inferences is always complicated and, in the behavioral and social sciences, fraught with uncertainty.” This means that simplistic and misleading claims on all sides of the gun control debate have the potential to stoke public opinion for policies that lead to more deaths than would occur in the absence of these polices.

47 thoughts on “Should the U.S. adopt Australia’s strict gun laws?

    • Well stated Jeff. The author James D. Agresti makes a lot of misinformation, statements and assumptions backed up by little other than studies done by other agencies if readers have time to study? Asking plenty of leading questions? Yet James only chart shows plenty of evidence to the fact that even though he (intentionally and conveniently neglected) to enter the date of the gun ban in U.S. inception and the incomplete downward trajectory of gun death in Australia post 2007 we can w/common sense and intelligence see there is a extremely positive benefit from responsible gun ownership in both these countries if you have enough intelligence and an open mind to see there is a short time lapse for result after bans and a continued benefit of safety for some time after a gun ban is lifted. Yet as proof of Sandy Hook, the chickens will once again come home to roost when discontinued… Wake up people and quite drinking the cool aide…

      The definition of stupidity is repeating the same failed actions over and over again then expecting a different result…
      Of coarse there are an overwhelming majority of greedy and selfish, highly motivated individuals and corporations w/their high paid lobbyist’s and pocket politicians making sure they exploit every avenue they can afford for filling their pockets w/dirty money on innocent’s blood. Sickening and Not Christlike…Clue; If your investing in these “multi nationals w/their cayman tax havens and their 300 % increase in sales after President Obama’s tough talk on gun control? You are just as dirty as the killer at sandy hook, Tucson Arizona, Colorado ets, or in the streets of every country in the world doing your dirty work and justifying it in your own selfish, filthy way.. Accept the TRUTH!!!! Quit trying to misinform w/excessive inaccuracies and repetitive leading assumptions.
      Keep it simple for the stupid and stubborn individuals that would rather have a pissing contest than move forward in positive, meaningful life saving conversation and resolve.
      Gun regulation and responsibility save millions of innocent lives……..

    • Jeff,

      First, I do not assert that removing the ban on assault rifles lowered the crime rates. In fact, I explicitly state that “cause and effect cannot be proved….”

      Second, “assault rifles” and other automatic weapons are already strictly regulated under federal law.

      Third, “assault weapons” are semiautomatic, not automatic.

      Finally, your other arguments are not cogent, and you don’t present a shred of valid evidence to back up anything you have said. This is even more so the case for the comments by Ejsull.

  1. Once these poor victims of this senseless violence are buried, and some time has passed, there needs to be a concerted effort to inform the public that there are/is tremendous evidence to show just the opposite of what they believe to be true. The truth needs to be told.

  2. I had a feeling that even gun control laws would not work.
    My personal feeling i this.
    If! Guns were banded, outlawed so on.
    There is a market called “The black market!”

    There is no way in this world that any gun control law will work.
    Because of 1 simple rule!
    Laws are only as good as the people who enforce it!
    And! The people who abide/obey it!

    As long as congress is petrifed of orginaisations such as the NRA!
    there will be either no gun laws.
    Or! The weakest gun control laws since 3.2 beer!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Keep in mind very few citizens of any country will break the law and risk penalty or pay a exorbitant amount to buy “black market” weaponry. The overwhelming majority of weapons purchased are at highly available, over supplied, easily accessible rates…

  3. Nice article!
    Much like the argument around concealed carry, some forget there is a difference between ‘causal’ and ‘correlation’ as you point out. And if they claim there is a causal relationship in one direction, they cannot rule out out-of-hand a causal relationship in the other direction. (e.g. if more people are carrying and crime does not go down, then at a minimum the presence of guns did nothing to increase crime.)

  4. Media bias fails to note that murder of children in the Chicago City Limits this year alone is over 250 and children shot over 450, all in a utopian creation of the likes of Obama, Jackson, and Manuel where firearms are banned and repressed entirely. More, stricter gun law would not have stopped the tragedy. On the other hand, had the school gone on alert due to the young man coming and arguing with someone at the school the day before, and there been a guard or armed citizen, things would have been different. No current or propsed gun law would have prevented the tragedy short of absolute bans and no guns in society…..and that isnt going to happen, at least not without the blood of patriots and kings.

    • I find it interesting that on a site called Just Facts you hold Obama et al to account for the high murder rate in Chicago, something that was deeply ingrained in that city for decades before they came to power.

    • Regarding Pat’s comment on Dec. 20, you mention the shooter getting into an argument with somebody at the school on the day before the shooting. Where can I find that fact reported. That is a very important part of the argument in this case. Thanks

  5. Don’t forget that there are 300 MILLION legally registered guns in the USA. They are not going any where. Any gun control laws can prevent people from buying more guns but it won’t do anything about the ones already owned.
    People need to give up on gun control, we are so armed as a country that control won’t help. We must educate gun owners in gun safety and stress how important it is for them to educate their family members about gun safety.
    Stop talking theory and look at the reality we live in. Even if the 2nd amendment were repealed, who is going to round up 300,000,000 guns nationwide? Next time you see a cop ask him if he would go door to door collecting guns? I don’t know any gun owners who will voluntarily give up their guns ….

    • People give up guns if
      1) Government buy back pays them more then retail (profit incentive)
      2) It is illegal to own (law abiding incentive)
      3) It is illegal to repair (nuisance incentive)

      Australians gave up 650,000 guns!! in 1996
      Continual buy back and police seizure over the long term would reduce guns. Newtown would not have happened.

      • Wrong. U.S. Citizens are keeping their guns for much more important reasons. Sure, I’ve got a few cheap hunting rifles I’d let go for a profit, but every gun owner I know (and that’s a lot!) firmly state they will never give their guns up to the government whether that makes them a criminal or not.

        • So what are they going to do ? Are they going to fight the National Guard and put there kids and family in harms way of getting killed ? The question is if they came it would be people who have there guns registered, and there not going to call you on the phone and tell you that you have to give up your guns. Are you willing to watch your family die for your stupid gun if you start shooting ? You your kids and your wife will die over a stupid gun.

  6. The killings in conn. would have never happened if our govt would fund and pass comprehensive laws to help the mentally ill..it has nothing to do with guns. That is just pure political b.s.

    • Yeh right! And will republicans PAY for the huge costs of a comprehensive mental health system.
      Im speaking as someone who has a family member with mental problems. These problems are often hidden to the outside community and very subtle and difficult to mange. Mental health care would be VERY expensive. Thank goodness there are no guns around in my case otherwise periods of violence could have been disastrous.

      • More parents need to admit when their children (or others) should not be allowed to own or have access to firearms. I’m the father of a manic-bipolar child myself, and if the state police would collect such data I would certainly report to them that my child should never be allowed to purchase a firearm. Further that that, though, firearms should not be allowed to be stored in a home with persons that have mental problems, just as they can’t be in the home with a convicted felon (in this state)

  7. Really great website! So many people are reposting misleading articles these days, getting everyone worked up, it is frightening. It’s nice to see a calm, intelligent look at the data.

  8. As usual, JustFacts points out “inconvenient truths” that major media outlets would rather ignore! Thanks for your due diligence!

  9. I am very shocked to hear on here so much of a defeatist view of many readers. Won’t Can’t etc etc
    Change takes time and hard work. Huge changes have happened in the US over time. Interracial marriage was unthinkable in the mid 20th century for instance.
    We as a society MUST take the long view. Short term fix everything tomorrow is crazy and obviously wont achieve results. This thinking is derived from 4 year political election cycles and corporate annual profit shareholder reports.

    • Cris your points are well taken and based on common sense… They are falling on deaf ears and eyes that do not see. Pat, Alan and Jim are Republicans and probably planted and funded by the NRA and Greed Mongers in other words “sell outs to a more compassionate society”. They have been drinking and passing the cool aide of fox misinformation…

      • Ejsull you are the one who has been drinking the cool aid , every single news station other then fox only reports the left liberal side , journalists are 80 percent democrats ,check your facts , just like a democrat , when you can’t win an argument with facts you deflect , because you are always right of course and you know better, who truly loves their children more someone who’s a patriot and will give up his own life to defend them or his friends , what will you do if someone breaks into your home or points a knife or a gun at you and your family on the street, give them a speech on gun control,yes the police will be there to put a chalk around you.

  10. I also think this was a fine article. But what about the precipitous decline in the homicide rate between 1994 and 2004 when assault weapons were banned?

      • A conclusion only a narrow minded, impractical individual could come too. Is it really not obvious to you the decline is a direct correlation to the continued decline from the ban for some time even after lifted? Given enough time w/o another ban this line of tragedy will sharply jump up duh???

  11. Because correlation and cause/effect are so difficult to disentangle in longitudinal statistics, I prefer a simpler one for the gun control issue. That is, if you have a gun in your house, you are four times more likely to die by a gun than if you don’t keep one in your house. There are still correlation issues: Namely, if people who feel unsafe arm themselves because they feel unsafe, then their deaths by gun might simply inform that they were correct in their assumption of insecurity about violence in their neighborhoods. That said, none of my (mostly) white and middle class friends who own guns own them primarily because they feel unsafe. Rather, they are hunters and gun enthusiasts. I’m somewhat of an enthusiast–an admirer, really–and I grapple constantly with both the correlation of ownership and death, and my desire to own an AR-15, which is pretty similar to what I trained on in the Marines.

    • You may be correct, (although without a source I’m somewhat skeptical) but even that by itself doesn’t mean much. What other factors are involved? Most likely in homes where someone is killed by gunshot there are other factors involved, such as drug or alcohol abuse, single parenthood, and criminal history.

  12. Australians had a hard time coming to grips with Gun control at the time but now we watch from afar and shake our heads and shed a tear when we see massacres happen in the USA. We don’t get to hear about the many individual murders that occur in your country, and we still have people shot and killed here, but we are so thankful that for almost 17 years now we have not had to mourn the loss of any of our fellow Australians in a massacre.
    I hope that the people of the USA can one day feel as safe as i do.

  13. The one thing that people fail to say is “Guns do not kill people. People kill people.” How do we regulate them?

  14. Say what you want, but I’m a US citizen who lived in New Zealand and over there guns aren’t legal therefore the police aren’t armed. Yes, there’s an armed unit when necessary but since the population can’t access guns like here, no need for armed petrol. Oh, and yes, there are murders that occur where another weapon is substituted for a gun but you can only mow down so many victims w/ a machete, as compared to an assault rifle.

  15. I find the following article VERY interesting: http://www.wnd.com/2013/01/the-giant-gaping-hole-in-sandy-hook-reporting/

    If there is any possible link between these drugs and massacres, it should be immediately investigated. But it won’t because the drug companies are too powerful. It is a shame that our government cares more about big corporation profits than the lives of our citizens; and doesn’t seem to understand the intent of the 2nd Amendment.

  16. Obama and the gun control fanatics are ignoring one vital point. Criminals and deranged individuals do not obey the law!

    Gun control only serves to disarm law-abiding citizens while leaving criminals armed.

    Question. Do you really want to stop your aging parents, vulnerable sisters, and grown-up daughters from protecting themselves from harm in the way they – not you – best see fit?

    I didn’t think so.

  17. This article does not give us facts. It twists stats just like the position of the drop in gun related deaths. The idea that the lifting of the Assault Rifle ban has anything to do with the drop in homicides is ridiculous. Crime rates in the US have been dropping for the last 20 years, 13 years prior to this ban. Why? It is a lot deeper than this article suggest. To make simple minded arguments hurts everyone. How about an article showing the past 30 years of crimes in Australia as compared to the US? Give us data. Give us facts. Keep your opinions to yourself “justfactsdaily”. It is funny how simple minded people have become. In the documentary “ethos” there is a part that talks about how are society is easily manipulated because people react emotionally without reason. Please help us out here.

    I was actually curious because many people are throwing around ideas of facts. This article does the same thing. It presents another idea of fictitious facts. To make the statement that removing the ban on assault rifles has anything to do with crime rates is no different than the argument that gun related deaths have fallen in Australia. Crimes rates have actually been falling for the last 20+ years, not 7. They are not related. The author has a simple minded point of view. Common sense tells you that the fall in homicides has nothing to do with the lifting of the ban on assault rifles. We do not live in a world where people look to see if you have an assault rifle vs. a shotgun. People do not want to get shot. Now we do live in a world where drive bys are more effective with assault rifles and other automatic weapons. Come on man… Please “justfactsdaily”, give us some. Perhaps a full perspective on crime rates in Australia and the US for the past 30 years.

  18. I am very disappointed to see that “justfactsdaily” has not presented objective data but has “cherry-picked” data that only corellates to the author’s opinion on the subject. Data from around the world will show that well-designed gun control laws do work, yet “justfactsdaily” uses an obscure paper from 2007 written by two gun enthusiasts, Baker and McPhedran, that uses an obscure technique known as “Auto-Regressive Integrated Moving Average” (“ARIMA”) and it’s own spreadsheet sources!
    Your spreadsheet is horribly flawed and attempts through distortion to show that the homicide rate only fell .4% in Australia while it fell 10% in the US.
    It does this by using differing 7-year intervals, 2004-2011 in the U.S. and 1997-2004 in Australia. The comparisons are not even valid, as the assault weapons ban never did or will have a large-scale impact on crime. Mass murders are actually a small percentage of gun murders in the U.S. and around the world.
    If you had merely extended that 7-years out to 2011, you would have found that the homicide rate in Australia fell by 76%!
    Is JUSTFACTSDAILY is a front organization for big business and ultraconservative causes? If your distortion of statistics is any clue, I have to say “Yes”.

    • 1) “Lacertus” claims that Just Facts Daily “uses an obscure paper from 2007 written by two gun enthusiasts, Baker and McPhedran, that uses an obscure technique known as ‘Auto-Regressive Integrated Moving Average.”

      Fact: The paper was published in the British Journal of Criminology, which is “one of the world’s top criminology journals.” That’s hardly “an obscure paper.” Furthermore, I cite this paper only to document that Australia’s gun laws were implemented in 1997. This bluster about an “obscure technique” is a shameless straw man and has nothing to do with my article.

      2) “Lacertus” claims that Just Facts Daily uses “differing 7-year intervals, 2004-2011 in the U.S. and 1997-2004 in Australia. … If you had merely extended that 7-years out to 2011, you would have found that the homicide rate in Australia fell by 76%!”

      Fact: As the article plainly states, these are corresponding intervals that show what occurred in the wake of the gun law changes. This is a logical and straightforward way to study the effects of laws. The claim about the 76% drop in homicide by 2011 is undocumented and patently untrue, as shown here: http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/facts/1-20/2011.html. Furthermore, even if it were true, it would only be a single year, which is hardly instructive in this context.

      3) Lacertus” claims that “JUSTFACTSDAILY is a front organization for big business and ultraconservative causes.”

      Fact: In 2011, our total budget was $92,263. As a matter of personal privacy, Just Facts does not share specific personal information about our donors, but I can assure there is no wizard behind the curtain. I left a secure career and took a major pay cut to pursue Just Facts, and I have since been offered more than double my current salary to do other work. I and others work for Just Facts simply because we believe there is a great need for honest and unbiased facts about public policy.

      James D. Agresti | President | Just Facts

      • Thanks James, great article, and response, some people are confused because they have been lied by the mainstream media for so long they can’t accept real facts when they get them.

  19. I appreciate the article, but it is far from objective.

    On the one graph that is shown, how can you mark the end of the assault rifle ban without showing the start date (1994)?

    While it is always difficult to prove causality, the very large drop in homicidal rate during the 10-year ban, shows a very strong correlation between the ban and the homicidal rate. Does this prove that the ban worked? I honestly don’t know. But I would like to think so.

    Is there another, better (i.e. more logical) explanation for such a large and widespread (country-wide) drop in the homicidal rate during that time?

  20. Taking peoples firearms away makes no difference to the gun death toll. In a country of 23m we still have considerable murder rate by way of black market and stolen guns. A good many innocents would be alive or be living quality lives in Australia if they were allowed to defend their homes and families with guns. That however won’t happen until some time in the future when the world slides into anarchy. By then there will be no choice but it will also too late for many of our future relatives.

  21. Pingback: A Gun Buyback Program Won’t End Gun Violence « Kavon W. Nikrad

  22. “What the editors fail to mention is that homicide rates, which were relatively low to begin with, actually increased in the wake of this ban”

    Very specious, rates ascend and descend, what matters is the specific crime rate by the relevant weapon. UK homicide has been on the decline concurrently since 2002. Guns are no more legal, but by your thinking all of the UK should be under a criminal stranglehold.

    “Other fallacies about violence and guns that are being propagated by media outlets include claims that “assault rifles” are legal in the U.S.”

    They are legal

    Correlation does not equal causation, no, but correlative studies can isolate the causative factors, and when we think about massive differences between Australia, the US, and the UK, does anything jump out besides the buyback? Dust storms in Australia, that’s about all. If it looks like a duck and acts like a duck.

    Being pro gun doesn’t mean you should be against buybacks, unless you also object to your tax dollars ever being used for anything, which is cowardly.Reason tells us that a gun in the hands of a burglar or mugger is used primarily to extort cash, then cash is the best thing to obviate its usage in the commission of crime.
    No one can argue with the results of success of PM Rudd was it?’s buyback scheme. To point to a slight uptick in vehicular manslaughter or bar room fatalities is not persuasve.

    “A good many innocents would be alive or be living quality lives in Australia if they were allowed to defend their homes and families with guns.”

    And similarly a good many innocents would be killed by the greater prevalence of guns in a society which unavoidably end up in the wrong hands. You may say “where there’s a will there’s a way” but not everybody has a strong or enduring enough will, especially if their desperation is temporary or their anger/motivation for the crime abates, to track down and acquire an illegal firearm through illegal means.

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