Twenty-two years ago, just weeks after the deadliest and last fatal mass shooting in Australia’s history, the country’s then-Prime Minister John Howard made it clear: Australia will not be like the United States.
“I would dread the thought that this country would go down the American path so far as the possession of firearms,” said Howard — at a gun rally.
Each time there’s a mass shooting like the one Wednesday in Parkland, Florida, where 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, attention turns to Australia and the changes it made to its gun laws two decades ago.
The country made sweeping gun control measures after a man killed 35 people with a semi-automatic weapon in a popular tourist area of Port Arthur, in Tasmania. Weeks after the April 1996 tragedy, the country and its states began banning rapid-fire guns to tamp down on mass shootings and then offered to buy the prohibited firearms.
Research suggests it’s worked.
The University of Sydney, in a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found Australia hadn’t experienced a fatal mass shooting — one in which five or more people are killed — since the 1996 shooting. In the 18 years prior, 1979-1996, there were 13 fatal mass shootings in Australia.
The numbers also showed total firearm deaths in Australia, which had been declining before 1996, dropped more rapidly once the changes were made. There were also declines in non-gun-related suicides and homicides, the study found, meaning researchers can’t determine whether the laws can be credited with driving the declines.
But at least one researcher argued it had an effect.
“Australia’s experience shows that banning rapid-fire firearms was associated with reductions in mass shootings and total firearm deaths,” said University of Sydney professor Simon Chapman at the time the study published.
“These findings offer an example which, with public support and political courage, might reduce gun deaths in other countries.”
Australia now touts its gun-control measures and has offered to lend the U.S. some wisdom. After the October shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest in U.S. history, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop suggested the country had something to offer the U.S.
“So we have had this experience. We acted with a legislative response and it will be up to U.S. lawmakers and legislators to deal with this issue,” she said on the Sunrise morning show in October.