Would Australia's mandatory gun buyback program work in the U.S.?

Would Australia's mandatory gun buyback program work in the U.S.?

- in US

WASHINGTON — It’s become almost a mythic tale passed around after mass shootings, raised by everyone from President Barack Obama to student survivors of the Parkland attack last month: Australia faced a similar problem with guns — and they solved it.

After a gunman with an AR-15 rifle and high-capacity magazines opened fire at a tourist site in Port Arthur and killed 35 people in 1996, a conservative government led Australian states in passing sweeping new restrictions on firearms. Authorities collected and destroyed over 640,000 weapons, as many as one-third of all guns in the country — whether their owners wanted to part with them or not.

In the years afterward, gun violence and gun suicides plummeted, and no similar attacks occurred. The prime minister at the time who oversaw the policy, John Howard, has urged the United States to follow his approach. A paper by Australian researchers released on Monday, including an academic who was a prominent advocate for the 1996 law, suggests the policy may have prevented 16 mass shootings based on previous rates of attacks.

“(They) took ideas, put legislation together, and they stopped it,” Sam Zeif, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who survived the Feb. 14 shooting, said in a televised White House meeting. “Can anyone here guess how many shootings there have been in schools in Australia? Zero.”

Australia has become a source of inspiration for politicians, activists and voters in America seeking stricter gun laws. But it hasn’t become a policy model.

Almost none of the major gun violence prevention groups are advocating anything similar to Australia’s mandatory gun buyback program. Neither are elected officials in Washington.

“I haven’t seen any serious proposal like that in the United States,” Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA and author of “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” said.

With some exceptions at the state and local level, nearly all policy proposals to restrict certain types of guns include a grandfather clause that allows people to keep existing firearms and accessories. Advocacy groups are wary of feeding accusations that they plan to take guns away rather than place restrictions on sales that would keep them from bad actors. Calls for a federal effort to ban and then forcibly remove private guns have mostly been limited to individuals.

“I think it’s pretty clear from the program we do support that it’s about keeping guns out of dangerous hands and not about confiscating guns,” Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign, which advocates against gun violence, told NBC News.

While Australia’s methods are considered a nonstarter in the United States, advocates for stricter gun laws still have to tackle the same problem: If the goal is to remove certain guns from circulation, what do you do if there are already millions available?

Image: Mick Roelandts, firearms reform project manager for the New South Wales Police, looks at a pile of about 4,500 prohibited firearms

After a mass shooting, Australia decided: It wanted most of its guns gone. So it bought them back from owners, by the thousands.