What the U.S. Can Learn from International Gun Control

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Written by Jacqueline Christ

In the United States, gun control is one of the most highly debated policies in the country. Even with the shock of frequent mass shootings, skyrocketing gun-related death rates, and victims that increasingly are younger, gun policy is locked in stalemate. This is a stark divergence from much of the world. From Germany to Australia, nations have tackled gun control with a drastically different approach. While guns have jumped to one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., the global community has squashed gun-related violence in its tracks. Why? Because unlike the U.S., other countries have learned from their mistakes.

While gun reform sits in debate on the floor of Congress for years at a time, other nations have taken a shift and taken stark action against guns. In Germany, the tremor of a single mass shooting in 2002 led to tightened gun policies. The year after a teenage student shot and killed 16 of his classmates, Germany produced a reformed version of its Weapons Act, in which any person under the age of 25 must receive a psychiatric evaluation before acquiring a gun license. Since the passing of the law in 2003, the number of gun-related death rapidly decreased. According to data from Gunpolicy.org, the number of gun-related deaths in Germany shrank from 1,122 in 2003 to 820 in 2014, a decline of nearly 26 percent.

Similarly, in Australia, gun reform took place after the deadliest mass shooting in the nation. After a man killed 35 people in the Port Arthur colony, the government initiated a widespread campaign to adapt Australia’s gun laws. The National Firearms Agreement was established in 1996 and placed restrictions on automatic rifles, initiated licensing laws and even spearheaded a buy-back program in which the government bought guns back from citizens. According to an analysis from Gunpolicy.org, the changes helped drop the number of gun-related fatalities from 516 in 1996 to 238 in 2016, a drop off of nearly 54 percent.

The effectiveness of gun buyback programs has also helped the UK combat gun violence. After the Dunblane massacre in 1996, in which more than a dozen children died from semi-automatic weapon violence, the government launched a temporary gun buyback program. The buyback program seized more than 20,000 weapons in the country, according to a report from BBC News. The UK has been at the forefront of gun reform dating back to the 1980’s—with the 1988 Firearms Amendment Act that established a list of banned weapons. The act placed bans on several automatic weapons and limitations on the amount of ammunition that can be purchased.

While individual states have modelled effective gun control policies, the international community has advocated for limits on the proliferation of guns. The UN established a stance against the distribution of small weapons in the 2001 Small Arms Programme of Action. Even though it holds no binding commitments, the agreement established mandates for better licensing, destroying small weapons, and raising awareness. In addition, the UN added a component to The Arms Trade Treaty to regulate small weapons. The 2014 treaty was signed by 94 states—including the U.S. and other nations with high gun-related death rates such as Brazil and Colombia. The agreement “encouraged” nations to keeps records and track the international transfers of conventional arms. However, there is no measure of accountability in upholding the promises in the treaty.

In light of several mass shootings, the UN reacted to the lack of implemented gun control in the U.S. in a report in UN News. After the 2016 Orlando gay night club shooting in which 49 people died, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein condemned the violence and cited the incident to the lack of sufficient gun control policies.

“It is hard to find a rational justification that explains the ease with which people can buy firearms, including assault rifles, in spite of prior criminal backgrounds, drug use, histories of domestic violence and mental illness, or direct contact with extremists—both domestic and foreign,” said Hussein. “Examples from many countries clearly show that a legal framework to control the acquisition and use of firearms has led to a dramatic reduction in violent crime.”

In fact, gun restrictions have been proven to reduce gun-related deaths. According to a study by Epidemiologic Reviews, the enforcement of gun control policies was correlated with a steep reduction in gun-related deaths in 10 countries. Specifically, the data found that laws that passed holds on carrying firearms resulted in lower homicide rates in Colombia, with a decline of 14 percent in homicides in the city of Cali. In Australia, the implementation of constraints on semi-automatic weapons in the Victoria state correlated to a 17.3 percent decline in gun-related deaths and gun-assisted suicides. The limitations of gun and ammunition possession, heightened firearm costs and stronger penalties resulted in a decrease in firearm deaths in Brazil in just six months.

Regardless of the specific type of gun control policy or country, the implementation of gun restrictions can rapidly decrease gun-related fatalities. The research indicated that in the U.S., a simple gun control policy can make a significant impact on firearm deaths as well. After a Maryland law required background checks and limited the sale to one firearm a month, the number of firearm homicides dropped by more than 10 percent.

Even with many countries modelling successful gun reform, the application of such laws in the U.S. is easier said than done. Given the lack of consensus in Congress, lobbying efforts from the National Rifle Association and the normalcy of gun culture, the U.S. has a long way to go.

However, in light of recent events within the U.S., the need for gun control is becoming more and more necessary. The U.S. should seek to adopt the gun control policies that have proven to be successful in the international arena, before it is too late.