When confronted with news about America’s latest deadliest mass shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas on Monday, Australian news anchors on channel ABC24 reacted with exasperation.
“Here we are again, same sort of thing we’ve already seen Orlando, we’ve seen Virginia Tech — Sandy Hook is the one that rings out in my mind — and yet again we’re sitting here this morning talking about yet another one,” one said.
“It always seems to be these major events in States where we talk about it and we want action and we want something on gun laws.”
Australians have repeatedly expressed frustration with America’s apparent inability to deal with repeated mass shootings. In 2010, after the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon that left 10 people dead, the Sydney Morning Herald ran an editorial blasting the U.S. for failing to take basic actions to save lives.
“The U.S. is too immature a society to be allowed to play with guns,” Michael Pascoe wrote. “It has never shed its Wild West mythology. Americans still use their courts to kill people, which sends a message in its own way… It’s a country that values property more than life.”
But Australian’s frustration is understandable. The country has also suffered deadly mass shootings, but unlike America, it has enacted concrete legislation to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
On April 28, 1996, a young man named Martin Bryant sat down in a busy restaurant in Port Arthur, Tasmania for lunch. After eating he produced an AR-15 rifle from his bag and started shooting indiscriminately into his fellow diners, gunning down 12 people in 15 seconds, before continuing his murderous spree to kill a total of 35 people before being arrested.
This mass shooting sounds horrifyingly like many of the 273 the U.S. has suffered this year already. But just 12 days after the Port Arthur Massacre, Australia announced sweeping gun control measures. Under the National Firearms Agreement, semiautomatic and automatic firearms were banned, a national firearms registry was established and more than 600,000 guns were bought back by the government. All this took just months, despite fierce opposition to the law.
“Port Arthur was our Sandy Hook,” Tim Fischer, deputy prime minister at the time, told the Guardian. “Port Arthur was acted on. The USA is not prepared to act on their tragedies.”
The reforms were a success. In the 18 years prior to the Port Arthur Massacre, 104 victims were killed in 13 different mass shootings. Since the National Firearms Agreement, there have been precisely zero mass shootings. Gun homicide rates have also declined.
Australia isn’t the only country that rapidly changed its gun legislation in response to mass shootings.
In 1996, Thomas Hamilton opened fire on a class of five and six-year-olds in the town of Dunblane, Scotland. He killed 16, including their teacher. The killer Hamilton, was again a stereotypical mass shooter — a loner who was reportedly obsessed with guns who had been rejected from membership at his local shooting club for being “sleazy.”
The shooting horrified the U.K., which already had extremely stringent gun control measures in place. A petition was signed by more than 750,000 people in wake of the massacre calling for more effective gun legislation and, a year-and-a-half later, the British government passed a ban on private ownership of all handguns. More than 200,000 were returned under a firearm amnesty.
Although homicide rates have increased recently in the U.K., the country still maintains an extremely low level of gun violence, with around one gun homicide per million, according to the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development.
“[Dublane] was one of the most shocking things that has ever happened in this country and it united the country in a feeling we had to do something,” gun control advocated Gill Marshall Andrews told CNN. “I don’t think that it would have been possible to make the kind of progress that we have made without that tragedy.”