05:55 - Source: CNN
2013: Australia's lesson in gun control

Story highlights

In the wake of the Oregon shootings, President Obama has again called for gun law changes

Other countries, including the UK, Australia, Finland and Norway have changed gun laws following mass shootings

The risk of dying by gunshot in Australia fell by more than 50% following a significant change in gun laws

CNN  — 

In the wake of yet another gun-related spate of violence in the U.S., opponents of the country’s gun laws are once again beseeching the public to back some restrictions on gun ownership.

On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama – who has addressed the country at least 14 times on nine different shooting attacks in his seven years in office – pushed for a change in gun laws when he spoke to reporters about the shooting.

“Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine, the conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this,” he said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America – next week, or a couple months from now.”

OPINION: Why we’re still debating guns in 2015

Proponents of the Second Amendment deny that tightening gun laws will lead to a drop in mass shootings. But, following similar tragedies in the UK, Finland, Norway and Australia, widespread gun law changes have been implemented, often with dramatic results.


In one of his first acts as leader, Prime Minister John Howard announced major reforms to Australia’s gun control laws just 12 days after 35 people died at the hands of a lone gunman wielding a military-style semi-automatic rifle at a popular tourist spot in Tasmania on April 28, 1996.

READ: Why change is possible

In the wave of public revulsion against what became known as the Port Arthur massacre, the move for stricter gun controls was led by Howard, who had taken office just seven weeks earlier.

He took his anti-gun campaign around the country, at one stage addressing a hostile pro-gun rally wearing a bullet-proof vest. He also oversaw a successful gun “buy-back” scheme that took some 650,000 guns out of circulation.

High-caliber rifles and shotguns were banned, licensing was tightened and remaining firearms were registered to uniform national standards – an accomplishment regarded by many in the country as Howard’s enduring legacy.

Australia has been compared to the United States for its “frontier mentality.” But unlike the U.S., there is no constitutional right to bear arms and gun ownership is markedly lower.

In the years after the Port Arthur massacre, the risk of dying by gunshot in Australia fell by more than 50% – and stayed there. A 2012 study by Andrew Leigh of Australian National University and Christine Neill of Wilfrid Laurier University also found the buyback led to a drop in firearm suicide rates of almost 80% in the following decade.

United Kingdom

On August 19, 1987, 27-year-old Michael Ryan went on a bloody rampage for several hours in the southern English town of Hungerford, Berkshire armed with a pistol, hand grenade and an automatic rifle, murdering 16 people and wounded over a dozen others.

In the wake of the Hungerford massacre, Britain introduced new legislation – Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 – making registration mandatory for owning shotguns and banning semi-automatic and pump-action weapons.

READ: Past massacres tightened UK gun laws

Nine years later, 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton burst into a school in the town of Dunblane in central Scotland and embarked on a terrifying shooting spree that left 16 five and six-year-old children and their teacher dead.

The following year, a new law was passed effectively banning the private ownership of all handguns in the UK, following a highly successful public campaign in the months after Dunblane that included a petition being handed to the government with almost 750,000 signatures.

However, Britain was shaken by another massacre in June 2010 when a lone gunman, named as Derrick Byrd, killed 12 people and injured almost 30 others after a near four-hour shooting spree in rural Cumbria, northern England. The body of the 52-year-old taxi driver was found alongside two powerful rifles, one equipped with a telescopic sight.

The tragedy again raised questions about the effectiveness of Britain’s gun laws after it was revealed Byrd was licensed to carry firearms. The licensing application process involves being vetted by police as well as the applicant’s doctor to assess their fitness to own a weapon.


On November 7, 2007, a teenager opened fire with a handgun at his high school in the southern Finnish town of Tuusula, killing eight people before fatally turning the gun on himself. Some 69 shells and more than 320 unused bullets were found at the scene.

Auvinen, who had no criminal record, obtained a license for the weapon the previous month and regularly practiced sharp-shooting as a hobby at a local range, police said.

The following year, the country was numbed by news of another mass shooting. Over the course of 90 minutes, 10 people were fatally shot as Matti Juhani Saari, wearing a ski mask and black fatigues, rampaged through a campus at Kauhajoki city’s School of Hospitality in southwestern Finland.

Following the shootings, the Finnish government moved to issue new guidelines on the use of firearms, particularly handguns and revolvers. New applicants for handgun licenses are now required to show they’ve been active members of a gun club for one year and be vetted by their doctor and police.

The minimum age for purchasing licenses of short barrel weapons has been raised to 20 and 18 for hunting rifles. Permits are now valid for a period of five years before being reviewed.

In 2013, 59,324 gun permits were issued, a 30% decline on 2007 when 85,409 permits were granted, according to Finnish media.


July 22, 2011 will live long in the memory of all Norwegians after the carnage that unfolded that day.

After detonating a bomb outside the prime minister’s office in Oslo, killing eight people, Anders Behring Breivik took a ferry to Utoya Island and embarked on a shooting spree that took the lives of another 69 people attending a youth camp.

Authorities said Breivik roamed the island shooting at campers. He was later jailed for 21 years.

Despite ownership and the type of ammunition permitted for use being tightly regulated, an independent report criticized Norway’s gun controls as “inadequate.” It called for a total ban on semi-automatic weapons of the type Breivik purchased with relative ease.

Like Finland, Norway has a high number of guns in circulation with hunting a national pastime. According to the “Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City,” there are almost 32 firearms per 100 people in Norway. This compares to 88.82 per 100 in the United States.

This story is an updated and edited version of a story published by CNN in 2012.