Barack Obama promised he wouldn’t take away anyone’s guns. From his experience, Hillary Clinton seems to have decided to skip the part of the campaign that involves placating the National Rifle Association.
Recently, at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, she was asked about adopting a federal gun-control program like the one enacted in Australia in 1996, which banned automatic and semiautomatic rifles and shotguns and mandated the buyback of those already present. Some 650,000 guns were taken from citizens and destroyed.
Clinton said the Australian example is “worth looking at.” The reason, she said, is that “by offering to buy back those guns, they were able to curtail the supply and to set a different standard for gun purchases in the future.”
From how Clinton phrased her answer, it’s pretty clear that she was thinking of a voluntary buyback. She compared it to Obama’s Cash for Clunkers program and cited voluntary programs done in various cities.
Given the fate of such previous gun-control measures as the “assault weapons” ban (which was allowed to expire) and universal background checks (which were rejected), a savvy politician could not possibly imagine a mandatory program getting through Congress.
Many gun-control advocates think we ought to emulate Australia. They claim the 1996 law reduced homicides, reduced suicides and stamped out mass shootings, and they insist that if we want to end the carnage here, we should be taking similar steps.
The effectiveness of what the Aussies did, though, is not so clear. It’s true that in the years after the law took effect, gun homicides and suicides declined. But they were declining before it took effect.
Does the 1996 law deserve credit for saving lives? Don Weatherburn, director of the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, told PolitiFact that the evidence is “far from conclusive.”
Andrew Leigh of Australian National University and
of Wilfrid Laurier University, whose study indicated that the program worked, admitted the experience may not be transferable.
“The ability of an island nation to restrict illegal gun imports,” they wrote, “coupled with the absence of any domestic gun manufacturers producing for the retail market, meant that legal restrictions on gun ownership were more likely to ‘bite’ in Australia than would be the case in countries with porous land borders.” Like, um, ours.
Even in Australia, experts estimate that only one-fifth of the guns in private hands were removed. Here, the share would be smaller.
What about a voluntary program? For evidence on that option, you don’t need to look at Australia. Many American cities, including Chicago, have offered payments to anyone turning in a firearm. But the people who respond are generally people who present little danger, if any.
The Australian law has zero chance of being adopted here and probably wouldn’t work if it were, while a voluntary version would be a waste of time.
But if Clinton wants to help the NRA, she’s found the perfect formula.