As our Congress furiously debates gun control, it’s interesting to see what happened in Australia when they banned certain types of weapons in 1996.

John Howard was prime minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007, and in the January 17th edition of the New York Times, he writes about his own experience with gun reform, following a horrific massacre in that country on April 28, 1996, when a psychologically disturbed man named Martin Bryant used a semiautomatic rifle and a semiautomatic assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Tasmania. Gun ownership is extremely high in Australia, especially in that part of the country.

Howard instigated a federally financed gun buyback scheme that eventually resulted in the destruction of almost 700,000 guns, the equivalent of 40 million guns in the US. He writes: "The fundamental problem was the ready availability of high-powered weapons, which enabled people to convert their murderous impulses into mass killing.

"Certainly, shortcomings in treating mental illness and the harmful influence of violent video games and movies may have played a role. But nothing trumps easy access to a gun. It is easier to kill 10 people with a gun than with a knife.

"Today, there is a wide consensus that our 1996 reforms not only reduced the gun-related homicide rate, but also the suicide rate. The Australian Institute of Criminology found that gun-related murders and suicides fell sharply after 1996. The American Journal of Law and Economics found that our gun buyback scheme cut firearm suicides by 74 percent. In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered 13 gun massacres– each with more than four victims–causing a total of 102 deaths. There has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996."

Maybe someday soon we’ll all feel it’s safe to send our kids to school again.

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