More than one million guns were destroyed in the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre, but the research by Professor Philip Alpers, from the Sydney University school of public health, said Australians have steadily restocked and the number of firearms in the community now totals around 3.2 million.
In the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania in 1996, a deranged gunman shot dead 35 people and wounded another 23. Then Prime Minister John Howard pushed through stringent national controls, banning semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns and introducing more stringent licensing. In the guns buyback, Australians surrendered more than 700,000 firearms.
“What our research found was that a huge number of people gave in their guns for no compensation at all,” he said. “These hadn’t been added into the discussions. So a million guns were taken out of circulation and put into the smelter.”
Gun imports increased after 1996 as people replaced banned guns, Alpers said. “Gradually for the past 10 years, they have been creeping up again.” But they are not the semi-automatics specifically prohibited after Port Arthur.
Alpers said the buyback was a spectacular success and then the risk of dying by gunshot halved. The Australian Institute of Criminology’s homicide study also shows gun murders have steadily declined from the late 1980s and are currently far outnumbered by murders with knives. Most gun deaths were from suicides and incidents of domestic violence, according to the research.
Only time would tell whether the increasing number of guns made Australia less safe, Alpers said. “It may be a problem, it may be a serious one, it may not be too bad, but we have yet to see.”
The findings of the study by the University of Sydney will be used by the gun control task force set up by US vice-president Joe Biden in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre.
“This is what the Americans are interested in — looking at this Australia has almost turned into a public health laboratory in terms of reducing gun violence.” he said.