As more U.S. companies were indicating their support for stricter gun laws this week, two foreign governments announced that they had made significant progress in regards to restricting firearms access on Wednesday.
In Australia, authorities revealed that citizens handed over 57,000 illegal firearms between July and September last year during a gun amnesty. Meanwhile, the Norwegian government now appears to have a majority for its plan to ban semiautomatic rifles — similar to those used in a string of deadly mass shootings in the United States — by 2021, despite protests from farmers and hunters.
If passed, the law would classify previously legal rifles used by hunters as “military-style” weapons, and would be accompanied by other measures, such as upgraded background checks ahead of the purchase of handguns, according to Peter Frolich of the Norwegian Parliament’s judicial affairs committee who spoke to the Associated Press.
Both initiatives indicate the lengths to which governments have gone in response to mass shootings in their respective countries, even if they occurred years or decades ago.
Australia’s firearms amnesty is based on a similar nationwide scheme that followed a mass shooting at a tourist site in the country in 1996, resulting in the deaths of 35 people. At the time, the Australian government decided to buy back firearms and managed to significantly reduce the number of weapons in circulation, partially also due to stricter ownership laws.
The measure is based on the assumption that any reduction of the numbers of available weapons that could fall into the wrong hands can help to prevent shootings, and there is some statistical evidence for this. In his famous study, “Public Mass Shooters and Firearms: A Cross-National Study of 171 Countries,” University of Alabama criminology professor Adam Lankford found a link between the number of guns and mass shootings that killed four or more people. The data set ranged from 1966 through 2012.
Since 1996, a number of countries, including Canada, Britain and Norway, have tried out modified versions of Australia’s scheme, allowing owners of illegal weapons to hand them in without having to fear legal repercussions.
In Norway, lawmakers’ willingness to reduce the number of firearms in circulation can mainly be traced back to the 2011 Utoya attack, in which right-wing attacker Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in one of Europe’s most gruesome terror attacks. Most of the victims were children or teenagers. One of the weapons he used was a semiautomatic rifle.
Since then, the Norwegian government has pondered the feasibility of a much broader ban of semiautomatic rifles than is in place elsewhere. A commission proposed such restrictions last fall and lawmakers are now set to approve the measures.
In both Australia and in Norway, two major shooting massacres appear to have changed the national debate over gun ownership, but both examples also show the limits of such approaches in the United States. Gun amnesties on illegal firearms naturally only work if certain types of firearms were banned or their access was limited. Based on numbers provided by Canadian authorities, amnesties usually help to reduce the number of illegal firearms accidentally inherited by daughters or sons or gun owners. But such initiatives are ill-equipped to combat illegal weapons ownership among criminals or individuals willing to commit attacks.
To prevent massacres, they usually only tend to work if deployed in tandem with the European-style measures deeply loathed by American conservatives: broad bans or restrictions on firearms ownership.