What Should We Do About Guns?

  • Would stricter gun laws reduce gun violence? Could gun control measures in places like Australia work in America? Nicholas Johnson, professor of Law at Fordham University, explains.
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    The next time you hear a politician call for “common sense gun control,” listen for the details.
    You are likely to be treated to a torrent of platitudes about assault weapons, gun show sales and other half-measures.
    These sorts of proposals are rooted in a theory of gun control that has been around since the 1960s. The basic idea is that fewer guns equal less gun crime.
    But for this theory to have even a chance of working, drastic reductions in the supply of guns will be necessary. Everything else amounts to security theatre.
    The late Senator Howard Metzenbaum, a strong gun control advocate, explained it this way: “If you don’t ban all guns you might as well ban none of them.”
    But few, if any, politicians who call for “common sense gun control” have the courage to propose this.
    Even putting aside the issue of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which affirms the right to keep and bear arms, a gun ban has no broad popular support. Never mind the conservative states, handgun ban referendums failed in two of our most liberal states - Massachusetts in 1976 and California in 1982 – by large margins. No serious attempts have been made since then.
    Recently Australia’s gun control efforts have gained new prominence as a possible model for the United States to follow.
    Let’s take a closer look at Australia.
    In 1996, after a lunatic used a semiautomatic rifle to murder 34 people in Tasmania, the Australian government banned all semi-automatic rifles and repeating shotguns.
    Owners of roughly 700,000 registered firearms – about a quarter of the country’s three million total guns – were required to turn them in for destruction. The government called this a “buyback,” but in fact no one had a choice.
    As my research shows, this model will not work in the United States for the simple reason that the US has roughly 325 million guns. This is orders of magnitude more than any other country. Even if the Australian plan were tried in the US and worked to perfection, we’d still be left with over 200 million guns, including handguns which account for nearly 80 percent of gun crime.
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