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EDITORIAL: Gun prohibition not a solution

Both President Barack Obama and his possible successor, Hillary Clinton, have repeatedly cited Australia as the model when discussing ways to retool America’s gun laws. But as J.D. Tuccille recently pointed out in a piece for Reason.com, Australia’s so-called “gun buyback” program that President Obama and Mrs. Clinton are so fond of has come with numerous unintended consequences.

In 1996, 35 people were killed and 23 were wounded when a lone gunman went on a shooting spree in Port Arthur, Australia. In response, Australia’s federal government led all of the nation’s states and territories in heavily restricting the legal ownership and use of self-loading shotguns, self-loading rifles and pump-action shotguns, while also clamping down on the legal use of those weapons by recreational shooters.

As Mr. Tuccille notes, what Mrs. Clinton and the president praise as a “gun buyback” program was actually a compensation confiscation of the aforementioned weapons. The number of gun-related homicides was already in a modest decline at the time of the Port Arthur incident, and when Australia took roughly 650,000 firearms out of civilian hands, the number of murders committed with a firearm declined sharply. And while the number of incidents of armed robbery and other violent crimes stayed on the rise, fewer of those incidents involved guns. As Mr. Tuccille summarizes, “a largely peaceful country remained peaceful, with alternative weapons sometimes adopted in place of guns by those who weren’t so well-intentioned.”

On the flip side, however, various estimates show that a mere 19 percent of those owning the banned weapons ever surrendered them to authorities. Not only did the confiscation drive many of the country’s peaceful gun owners underground, but it also gave rise to a growing black market that has fueled a growing organized crime network that trades in the very guns — as well as drugs and other items — that the Australian government sought to keep off the streets. Mr. Tuccille says the crime network — a network the nation will be stuck with for years to come — has developed international contacts, grown wealthy and dangerous, and spawned crimes that, experts say, have yet to show up in the nation’s crime statistics.

As we’ve noted on this and many other issues, this is what happens all the time with prohibition — it feeds a surge in bad actors looking to circumvent the law. The fact that this is now a problem in Australia should come as no surprise at all.

No amount of expanded background checks or other gun-control laws will deter criminals intent on committing crimes from doing just that. Nor will more gun-free zones, signage of which does little more than advertise the defenseless. Government at all levels needs to stop looking for ways to undo the Second Amendment. Rolling back overly restrictive gun laws, such as Australia’s, or, better yet, introducing legislation that supports concealed-carry rights would do far more to protect citizens than expanding restrictions on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

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