An increasingly common response from pro-gun control activists following a mass shooting is the call for America to implement Australian-style gun control laws as the “solution” to gun violence. Following the horrific mass murder carried out in Las Vegas on Sunday, in which at least 59 people were killed and over 500 injured by a lone gunman perched in a hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Australia’s radical gun reform laws of 1996 are once again being invoked as the means of preventing another such heinous act. But those condemning America for failing to follow Australia’s example are not being honest about what that would actually look like in the U.S.
Implementing Australia’s gun control policies first and foremost requires imposing Australia’s euphemistically named “gun buyback” program, the cornerstone of the country’s gun laws. As positive as a “buyback” program sounds, what gun control advocates often conveniently fail to note is that it only works if it is obligatory. The gun buyback is actually government-imposed gun confiscation. There is no opting out. You are handing over the gun that you own legally to the government, or else you will face the point of a gun. The only guns the Australian government allows their citizens to own mut be registered and permitted for specific purposes, and self-defense is not one of those government-sanctioned purposes.
Australia’s gun confiscation was only successful because of its large scale. The government took at least 650,000 guns, or about one-fifth of all guns in the country; higher estimates put the numbers at 1 million and one-third. There are over 300 millions firearms in the U.S. To implement the “buyback” program on the same scale in America would require the forced confiscation of 60 to 100 million guns from tens of millions of Americans.
So, would tens of millions of gun-owning Americans, many of whom specifically own those guns for self-defense — including, if not particularly, self-defense against a tyrannical state — voluntarily hand over those guns to a government they believed was violating their constitutionally enshrined rights? Not a chance. What would inevitably have to happen is a militarized police force knocking on doors, searching houses, and forcefully taking those guns from tens of millions of “bitter clingers.”
In short, implementing Australia’s gun laws would result in massive civil upheaval, violence, arrests, even civil war.
In a must-read piece for The Federalist, historian Varad Mehta outlined several reasons why Australia’s gun laws would not just fail in America but result in the criminalization of millions of Americans and ultimately revolt; he underscores the central difference between the United States and Australia when it comes to guns: The U.S. has a Bill of Rights; Australia does not. Australian citizens simply do not have rights as unequivocally and solidly enshrined as Americans, not to mention a right to bear arms.
Though he likely didn’t intend to make that case, the Australian prime minister who oversaw the country’s sweeping gun control laws, John Howard, underscored his fellow countrymen’s lack of constitutionally protected rights in a pro-gun control op-ed for The New York Times published shortly after Sandy Hook. Here’s the key passage from the op-ed (h/t Mehta, emphasis added):
Our challenges were different from America’s. Australia is an even more intensely urban society, with close to 60 percent of our people living in large cities. Our gun lobby isn’t as powerful or well-financed as the National Rifle Association in the United States. Australia, correctly in my view, does not have a Bill of Rights, so our legislatures have more say than America’s over many issues of individual rights, and our courts have less control. Also, we have no constitutional right to bear arms. (After all, the British granted us nationhood peacefully; the United States had to fight for it.)
Howard is celebrating his own lack of a Bill of Rights to protect him from a potentially tyrannical government. This dismissal of citizens’ rights and lauding of a government with potentially unlimited power flies in the face of a core belief of a majority of Americans, including a vast majority of gun owners. And it is this difference above all the others that makes Australia’s gun laws impossible to impose on Americans.
If you haven’t read Mehta’s excellent discussion of this issue, do so.
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