Updated 1 year, 6 months ago

Australia, Britain and Canada response to Gun Violence

After the shooting at Umpqua Community College, a visibly angry President Obama pointedly noted the contrasting responses in the United States and its allies to gun violence.

“Other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings,” he said on Thursday. “Friends of ours, allies of ours — Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it.”

In Australia, Britain and Canada, mass killings have had a mobilizing effect and resulted in changes to laws and regulations.

The turning point in Australia was in April 1996 when a man armed with semiautomatic weapons killed 35 people and wounded 23 in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

The national outcry that followed led to the rapid introduction of tight restrictions on firearms, including a ban on almost all automatic and semiautomatic rifles, as well as shotguns.

John Howard, who had only recently become prime minister when the legislation was enacted, said the process was not easy.

The effort required each of Australia’s states and territories to enact their own laws, called for an ambitious gun-buyback program that led to the recovery and destruction of more than 600,000 weapons, and imposed a one-time tax on all Australians.

Some of Mr. Howard’s center-right coalition supporters, including rural residents who had long owned guns, resented the fact that they had to give up their weapons because of the criminal behavior of others, Mr. Howard wrote in 2013 in The New York Times.

But Australia also had fewer barriers than the United States to enacting gun control: There is no constitutional right to bear arms, and there are no pro-gun lobbying groups with the influence of the National Rifle Association.

“In the end, we won the battle to change gun laws because there was majority support across Australia for banning certain weapons,” he wrote, adding, “Few Australians would deny that their country is safer today as a consequence of gun control.”

In 1987, a gunman in the southern English town of Hungerford killed 16 people, including his mother and a police officer, leading to the introduction of tough laws in Britain requiring owners of shotguns to register their weapons and prohibiting semiautomatic weapons.

Nearly a decade later, after 16 small children and a teacher were shot and killed during three minutes of horror in the Scottish town of Dunblane in 1996, the British government banned the private ownership of automatic weapons and prohibited the private ownership of handguns in Britain’s mainland.

Although the results have been mixed, some criminologists contend that tougher rules regarding gun registration, even for owning a hunting rifle, have helped circumscribe gun crime.

Tough restrictions on handguns and automatic weapons in Canada date to the 1930s. But the rules were expanded to include rifles and shotguns in the aftermath of a rampage in 1989, when an unemployed and embittered 25-year-old armed with a semiautomatic hunting rifle stormed an engineering school in Montreal.

Shouting “I hate feminists,” he separated the women from the men and killed 14 female students before turning the gun on himself.

After that shooting, rifles and other long guns had to be registered like handguns and a majority of semiautomatic weapons. Gun owners were also required to obtain a license, and ammunition sales were controlled.

The long gun registry was unpopular in rural and northern areas. Over the objections of police forces and some provinces,  Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is now seeking re-election, abolished that law in 2012, although ownership of any kind of gun still requires a license.

New York Times | By DAN BILEFSKY, AUSTIN RAMZY and IAN AUSTEN