Why we shouldn’t apply Australia’s gun laws to the US

22 February 2018

Why we shouldn’t apply Australia’s gun laws to the US

Image credit: Michael Saechang (Flickr) – CC BY-SA 2.0

After every significant shooting in the United States the gun control debate inevitably resurfaces, and comparisons are drawn between Australia and the United States. While some changeĀ may be necessary in the US, this is not an appropriate comparison, and importing Australian laws to the US may not be as effective there as those laws have been here.

Australia introduced strict laws regulating gun ownership after suffering a major shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania in April 1996. Through intergovernmental cooperation, the adoption of these laws have arguably helped prevent a major shooting from occurring for more than 20 years. Many people argue that the US should follow Australia’s example and introduce similar laws.

Population size

Australia’s population is tiny compared to the US. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated Australia’s resident population as beingĀ 24,598,900 in June 2017; this compares to California alone, which sits at approximately 39,776,830 according to the World Population Review. Australia’s population is less than one-tenth that of the United States’.

This huge difference in population means there is a much larger pool of people in the US who are mentally ill or wish to harm others. Reforming gun laws in the US may make a dent, but with such a large population there remains a greater number of individuals who are, intentionally or otherwise, a threat to other people. Whether these individuals would be deterred by stricter laws or whether they would obtain firearms illegally or use other weapons cannot be known.

Import capacity

As an island nation that is far from other major landmasses, importing legal goods into Australia is significantly more difficult than in other countries; it is even more difficult to import illegal goods like firearms and drugs. The only methods of bringing illegal items into Australia are by boat or plane, making it already much more difficult for criminals to establish or run a lucrative black market for firearms.

This difficulty does not mean illegal items cannot be found in Australia, but the difficulty of getting them here drives the prices up to ridiculous amounts. This makes it much more difficult for criminals to get their hands on weapons, and gun buyback schemes reduce the incentive for gun owners to sell their now-illegal firearms on the black market. Australia’s gun laws are therefore reasonably effective at keeping guns out of the wrong hands.

The US, on the other hand, borders Canada to the north and Mexico to the south, with a contiguous connection to Central and South America. This proximity makes it much easier and cheaper to smuggle illegal items into the mainland US by both road and sea without being detected. Criminal organisations south of the border in Central and South America are often responsible for these activities.

While it may be difficult for Australians to get their hands on illegal weapons, it would be much, much easier and cheaper for Americans to do so even if they adopted similarly strict controls.

Cultural differences

Americans are extremely divided on the issue of gun control, with seemingly little room for compromise between those who advocate for an inflexible application of the Second Amendment, and those who plead for stricter laws. There is no middle ground.

The issue isn’t as divisive in Australia, likely due to its smaller population, the historically-low prevalence of gun violence, and the limited gun culture that exists. Regardless of what lawmakers in the US attempt in terms of gun control, there will be significant portions of the population who oppose whichever decision they make, making the debate much harder and politically charged for the US than it was for Australia.

Stricter gun control laws could make a difference in reducing the number of mass shootings that occur in the US. Making it more difficult to obtain a firearm will reduce the use of firearms. But because of the significant differences between Australia and the US, Australia is perhaps not the best comparison to keep rolling out after these tragedies.