As we head in to the New Year and reflect on events that have shaped us over the last 365 days, one thing is sure: Gun control was one of the most hotly contested topics. As the debate unfolds in 2016, we should have grace and humility to understand that this is a complex issue, and there is no easy fix.
The United States has averaged one mass shooting every 64 days, an alarming statistic. A 13-year study conducted by The New York Times found that the average number of annual shootings with multiple casualties increased from 6.4 a year from 2000 to 2006, to 16.4 a year from 2007 to 2013.
Gun control is a seemingly never-ending debate in the United States. President Obama and other political figures have recently proposed taking active steps to curtail gun violence, stating such action is long overdue.
Many point to gun control policies in Australia and Great Britain, claiming these countries have practically eliminated mass shootings after implementing mandatory gun buyback programs. Indeed, statistics show that “murders and suicides plummeted” in Australia shortly following the implementation of its policy in which some 650,000 guns were confiscated. It’s suggested that America could implement similar policies and observe similar declines in gun violence.
Although the urge to decrease and eliminate these tragic shootings in the United States is understandable, we shouldn’t be so quick to advocate adopting Australian- and British-style gun policies in the United States.
First, the programs in Great Britain and Australia have not been nearly as effective as proponents claim. After the gun buyback was put in place in the United Kingdom, gun violence did indeed fall. But it didn’t disappear. Criminals simply shifted to alternatives, like knives. In fact, the rate of knife violence in the United Kingdom is now double the rate of gun violence in the United States. It’s become such a problem that British citizens are encouraged to “save a life” by “surrender[ing] your knife.”
In Australia, overall murder rates fell after implementing their program, from a rate of 1.6 per 100,000 in 1994 to 1.1 per 100,000 in 2012. However, the Australian government reports that crimes such as armed robbery, manslaughter, kidnapping and sexual assault have all increased after the gun ban. In terms of suicides, the rate of gun suicides fell — but overall suicide rate reached a 10-year high.
The United Kingdom and Australia have shown us that gun control doesn’t stop innocent people from being wounded and killed.
The idea of implementing a gun ban or widespread buyback program in the United States faces additional problems. Consider that, even if it became completely illegal for everyday citizens in the United States to obtain guns, the demand for weapons wouldn’t disappear, but move onto a completely unregulated black market.
This is precisely what’s happened in the United Kingdom and Australia. In 2008, the Guardian reported that machine guns, shotguns and pistols were easy to come by on the streets of London for as little as 150 pounds. In Australia, guns are being illegally smuggled into the country. Moreover, many gun owners failed to register or give up their weapons after the ban was implemented. Together, these issues make guns used in crimes even more difficult to trace.
Others have suggested that, in addition to or in conjunction with a nationwide buyback or ban, stricter background checks, like those in Sweden, may by key to stopping mass shootings, but even here the benefit is not so clear. Sellers in today’s black market in the United States, for example, often use “straw purchasers.” These individuals, with no criminal record, easily pass background checks and have been used to legally purchase guns, only to turn them over to black market sellers.
It’s apparent that there is a problem with gun violence in the United States. Although it is entirely understandable that citizens want change in the wake of tragedy, it is important to consider the costs and benefits of any proposed solution. While we want to rid our country of mass shootings, we should be cautious in advocating mimicking other countries’ policies. As the United Kingdom and Australian policies have shown, completely abolishing guns may reduce some gun-related crime, but may simply cause a shift from one type of crime to another.
• Sarah Potter is a junior at the University of Tampa, where Abigail R. Hall is an assistant professor.