The meaning of “Australia” [Updated With Chart: How Successful Was Australia?]

In his rush to capitalize on the mass shooting deaths in Roseburg, Oregon, last week, President Obama made a statement including this observation:

We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings. Friends of ours, allies of ours — Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it.

What does this mean? Great Britain effectively banned handguns in two 1997 laws (details here). Australia effectively banned semiautomatic rifles as well as certain categories of shotguns, implemented strict licensing and registration requirements, and instituted a mandatory buyback program in 1996 (details here). When Obama refers to Great Britain and Australia in this context, he is referring to the respective programs of banning and/or confiscation they adopted.

Charles Cooke briefly noted the implication of Obama’s statement last week at NR here. “In plainspeak,” Cooke explained this past July, “that’s ‘confiscation.’ Were the United States to do this — and it can’t, because it’s illegal – the federal government would have to confiscate around 150 million firearms[.]” Cooke made the same point last year after Obama plugged “Australia” while speaking to users of the blogging platform Tumblr.

This summer the Federalist published Varad Mehta’s column on the Australian law as “The Australian gun control fallacy.”. Now NR assistant editor Mark Antonio Wright reviews the Australian law and the argument over its effects in the column “Australia’s 1996 gun confiscation didn’t work and it wouldn’t work in America.” Wright too parses the meaning of “Australia.” “‘Australia’ is Obama’s preferred euphemism for that most cherished of gun-control ideals: mass confiscation of the citizenry’s weapons.”

Nolan Finley expanded on the points made by Cooke and Wright in a Detroit News column over the weekend. Finley notes the disparity between Obama’s express advocacy of “common sense” reforms and his promotion of “Great Britain” and “Australia” as models:

Obama cited the response of Great Britain and Australia to mass shootings in those countries, suggesting they should serve as a model for the United States. But he carefully avoided talking about the specifics of what they adopted. They’re not even close to his tepid wish list.

Australia bans the semi-automatic rifles and shotguns that are found in every hunting blind in America. It requires purchasers to state a specific reason for buying a gun — personal protection is not considered a legitimate cause — and then wait nearly a month before receiving the firearm.

Owners of all weapons have to be licensed, and the permits expire after five years. Australia also has strict limits on ammunition purchases.

British citizens cannot own handguns or even pump-action shotguns.

In citing Australia and Great Britain as examples, does Obama envision their gun laws as right for America? If so, he should put it on the table. He should have the courage to tell America exactly how Australia and Britain control guns, and make the case for emulating them. Draft those bills and send them to Congress.

Instead, he climbs on his high horse and denounces the American culture. Well, change it. He’s not been shy about doing so in other areas, why not guns?

Because he’d rather bluster than admit the only certain way to end gun violence is to round up the 300 million private guns in America and melt them down.

There is nothing Obama loves more than the sound of his own voice lecturing others from a position of presumed moral superiority. If Obama keeps his promise to keep yammering about this subject, we should understand what he is talking about. “Great Britain” and “Australia” have a meaning Obama has so far declined to spell out.

NOTE: After I wrote about this last week, a reader wrote from Australia to object that Australia hadn’t banned or confiscated “all guns” — an assertion I don’t think either Cooke or I had made — and that “there are many more firearms legally owned in private hands in Australia in 2015 than in 1996 at the time of the seizure of self loading/semi autos.” The point, however, is that when Obama says “Australia,” he is advocating the banning and confiscation of widely owned weapons.

JOHN adds: Whatever Australia did, it was not as successful in reducing homicides as what we have done here in the U.S. This chart comes from the Australian government. Note that there was no apparent reduction in homicides after the gun confiscation/ban/buyback of 1996. Years later, the homicide rate declined slightly, as it did throughout the developed world:


But nowhere near as sharply as the homicide rate has declined here in the United States since the mid-1990s. Whatever we have done in the U.S., whether or not you credit more liberal carry laws and more widespread ownership of handguns, it has worked far better than the approach to homicide that has been taken in Australia:


Liberals sometimes try to obscure these basic facts by talking about “gun homicides” or restricting the conversation to mass shootings. But the point of gun control isn’t to force criminals to use knives and clubs, as they do in England; the point is to reduce the number of murders. Likewise, mass shootings are so rare that statistics don’t mean much. (Norway was doing great on mass shootings until Anders Breivik came along.) Again, the point is not to cause people to be murdered individually rather than in groups. The only rational goal of gun control or other such measures is to reduce the overall rate of homicides. Neither Australia nor the United Kingdom has been anywhere near as successful as the U.S. in that respect.

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