Australia’s gun control laws have stopped mass shootings and reduced gun related homicides. Why is the US struggling to introduce gun controls to do the same? Systems thinking may provide some insight.
Just two weeks after the Orlando nightclub shooting, the bloodiest in the recent history, when a gunman killed forty nine people and injured a further fifty three, the US Senate rejected a string of proposals to restrict guns. Meanwhile South Australia has extended its gun amnesty until the end of the year, which so far has resulted in more than 2600 unregistered, illegal or unwanted firearms being handed in.
Why is there such a contrast between two first world democracies? Systems thinking may provide some insight.
Systems thinking works by applying the concept of a system to a situation. As a system, the situation can be thought of as set of interrelated parts working together to achieve a common purpose.
For this situation, what is our system of interest? It is a safety system, and like all safety systems, its purpose is to protect people from harm by eliminating, or protecting people from hazards. Some safety systems are more effective than others. When we look at gun safety, the Australian system seems to be more effective than the American one.
Gun control is a means to an end. It is one method of protecting people by regulating firearm access to people who may cause harm to themselves or others. Advocates of gun control argue that gun control reduces gun violence, whereas opponents of gun control argue that gun control increases gun violence because it reduces the ability of people to defend themselves.
Does gun control actually reduce gun violence? A recent university study concluded that since the enactment of gun law reforms in Australia there have been no mass shootings. There has also been a more rapid decline in firearm deaths between 1997 and 2013 compared with before 1997. The reforms are not perfect but they have made a difference.
Could similar gun control laws be introduced in the United States? At present it is unlikely. The problem of gun safety requires that any solution be systemically feasible and culturally desirable. This was and currently continues to be the case in Australia, as illustrated by South Australia’s continuing efforts.
The Australian ban on the private possession of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and the introduction of compulsory buy-back schemes resulted in more than six hundred thousand prohibited weapons being handed in and destroyed. If the ban and buy-back scheme had been culturally undesirable it would have simply failed.
It is clear that gun control in any form is not culturally feasible in the United States. Until the advocates of gun safety address the cultural aspects then any proposals for gun control remain destined to fail.