A spectre is haunting America—the spectre of gun confiscation. Seeking feel-good solutions to complex problems, an increasing number of politicians are going beyond the familiar narrative of “common-sense gun laws” and seriously discussing a tactic of seizing firearms from law-abiding citizens—leaving them helpless against the attentions of armed criminals. Lest we think these are only the ideas of an extremist fringe far from the corridors of power, let us not forget what it means when President Barack Obama praises the restrictive gun laws passed in Australia in the wake of the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre.
“It was just so shocking—the entire country said, ‘Well, we’re going to completely change our gun laws,’ and they did. And it hasn’t happened since.” Those were the words of the president when he discussed gun control with comedian Marc Maron on a special podcast appearance.
To say that this is simply a reductive or naïve portrayal of events does not go far enough; it is almost certainly disingenuous. What occurred in Australia in 1996 was not just a stricter gun law—it was a mass confiscation. To paint it as the product of a national consensus is an insult to those Australians who were furiously opposed to being disarmed by their government.What occurred in Australia in 1996 was not just a stricter gun law—it was a mass confiscation. To paint it as the product of a national consensus is an insult to those Australians who were furiously opposed to being disarmed by their government.
The comprehensive law that initiated the confiscation bore the Orwellian name of the 1996 National Firearms Agreement. Of course, Australians were encouraged not to acknowledge those who disagreed. Semi-automatic firearms, along with pump-action shotguns and rifles, were collected in what was euphemistically termed a “buyback.” Citizens were paid for turning in their guns, indeed—but they faced jail time if they did not. There is another word for a mandatory buyback: confiscation.
An NRA News investigative report by Ginny Simone captured the raw feelings of many gun owners at the time. Two thousand Australians gathered outside Parliament, chanting “We want justice!” Collector Raymond Carn said, “It was 40 years of collecting … I felt sick. I had to hand them in, because if I didn’t I was going to jail.” A retired chief inspector of police summed up the matter thusly: “It’s become very, very obvious … that the expenditure of half a billion dollars has done absolutely nothing to reduce crime.”
There have been many competing reports as to the immediate aftermath of the gun confiscation: While NRA reported a 69-percent increase in armed robberies, anti-gun sources glibly hailed the supposed reduction in crime that had resulted. Facts tend to become clearer in hindsight, and there is now a growing consensus among impartial researchers that disarming Australia’s citizens did not make them safer.
A 2013 Breitbart feature found gun violence becoming a huge concern. “There is no single source of gun violence,” explained New South Wales police commissioner Andrew Scipione. “Guns have fallen into the hands of organized crime, outlaw motorcycle gangs, mid-level crime groups and petty thieves, and the lines are often blurred.” Unsurprisingly, the criminals are still armed.
The Australian government destroyed anywhere from 600,000 to a million firearms. Those guns that were still granted legal toleration had to be stored locked and unloaded, meaning that they would be of limited use in the case of a home invasion. The Australian people paid a massive price in liberty. Their reward? At best, an unexamined resolution that things were somehow better now. For those who became victims, or who simply examined the situation with open eyes, it was rather clear that they were not. Gun rights were, for all practical purposes, gone forever. As one interviewee in Ginny Simone’s special noted, “We don’t have a chance in hell of getting those rights back.”
This is the gun-control regime that our president applauds for its decisive resolve. It robbed Australians of their right to self-defense and empowered criminals, all without delivering the promised reduction in violent crime. Australia’s gun confiscation is indeed a lesson to America: It is a sign of what is to come if we hold our rights lightly.