Noting that there have been more than 350 mass shootings in the United States so far this year, Fischer said that “all [are] unacceptable because the U.S. is not stepping up on the public-policy reform front.”
“It’s time to call out the U.S.A,” he argued. He also had words for the National Rifle Association: “The NRA in particular needs to be called out for their unacceptable blockage of any sensible reform, including [ammunition] magazine limitation.”
Fischer is a farmer, Vietnam War veteran (yes, Australia fought in Vietnam), and gun owner himself. And he isn’t just any politician spouting off. After an Australian named Martin Bryant murdered 35 people with a semiautomatic rifle in Port Arthur in 1996, in the deadliest mass shooting in Australian history, Fischer and then-Prime Minister John Howard helped lead a massive effort to reform the country’s gun laws—a campaign often cited as a potential model for enacting stricter gun control in the United States. (The San Bernardino shooters also used semiautomatic rifles, which were purchased legally and then modified.)
Following Bryant’s killing spree, the Australian government banned automatic and semiautomatic firearms, adopted new licensing requirements, established a national firearms registry, and instituted a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases. It also bought and destroyed more than 600,000 civilian-owned firearms, in a scheme that cost half a billion dollars and was funded by raising taxes. The entire overhaul took only months to implement.
The program was (and to a degree remains) controversial, especially with rural, conservative constituents of Fischer’s own National Party. But there is considerable evidence that it has, on balance, been effective. The number of mass shootings in Australia—defined as incidents in which a gunman killed five or more people other than himself, which is notably a higher casualty count than is generally applied for tallying mass shootings in the U.S.—dropped from 13 in the 18-year period before 1996 to zero after the Port Arthur massacre. Between 1995 and 2006, gun-related homicides and suicides in the country dropped by 59 percent and 65 percent, respectively, though these declines appear to have since leveled off. Two academics who have studied the impact of the reform initiative estimate that the gun-buyback program saves at least 200 lives each year, according to The New York Times. In a multinational study for the Small Arms Survey, Marcus Wilson cited the Australian case as an example of the most efficacious type of government effort to control arms and measurably reduce armed violence, in which weapons-collection programs are combined with legislative reform, campaigns to shift public opinion, and civil-society involvement.
Fischer’s prescription in the aftermath of the San Bernardino attack—a more severe travel warning for the United States—may seem not only small-bore but alarmist, an overreaction to one horrific event. And it very well might be. After all, the number of foreigners who die in mass shootings in the United States is probably exceedingly small.