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Gun laws in other countries: Why don’t mass shootings happen outside of the US?

In response to the shocking massacre in Robb Elementary School, Texas on Tuesday, we look at what other nations have done to better protect the public.

Why don’t mass shootings happen outside of the US?

On Tuesday morning a mass shooting attack took place at the Robb Elementary School in Ulvalde, Texas as a gunman opened fire in classrooms. By the evening local authorities had confirmed the death of two adults and 18 students, aged between seven and ten, but the total number of casualties may still grow.

It marks the latest horrifying example of gun violence in a country where mass shootings are disproportionately common when compared to similar countries around the world. Some estimates have suggested that the United States has more guns than people, and efforts to enact tougher restrictions on gun ownership are frequently defeated in Congress.

Speaking to ABC News David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, explained: “Compared to the other peer countries, basically what we have is lots and lots of guns, particularly handguns, and we have by far the weakest gun laws. Not surprisingly, we have huge gun problems.”

Mass shootings often carried out with legal weapons

Full details of the weapons used in the Robb Elementary School attack have not yet been released, but in the vast majority of gun massacres in the US a legally-obtained firearm was used. Earlier this month a gunman killed ten Black people in an attack on a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York using an assault-style rifle.

In fact, between 1966 and 2019, 77% of all mass shooters in the US used weapons they had obtained through legal purchases, according to a survey compiled by the National Institute of Justice. That trend has continued into 2022 with shooters able to easily purchase weapons with minimal checks.

“Based on what we know about Buffalo, the system seems to have been followed, but the problem is with the system itself,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed in the school 2018 Parkland shooting in Florida. “The reality of life in America, the big problem, is that these people don’t have to jump through enough hurdles to get a gun.”

Australia shows the benefits of tighter gun laws

In 1996 Australia suffered its 13th mass shooting in 18 years when Martin Bryant killed 35 people at a popular tourist resort in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

This attack led to all states and territories in the country adopting the National Firearms Agreement, which established a national gun registry, imposed permit requirements, and banned all semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. The government also introduced a buyback program which took around 650,000 firearms off the streets.

That proved to be a turning point in Australia, with a 2018 study from the University of Sydney noting that there had been just one mass shooting in the 22 years following the reforms.

A similar tipping point was reached in the United Kingdom in 1987, in response to the Hungerford massacre which killed 16 people. As is often the case in the US, the perpetrator’s weapons were largely legally-obtained, so Parliament passed the Firearms (Amendment) Act the following year, which banned the ownership of semi-automatic centre-fire rifles and greatly restricted the use of shotguns with multiple cartridges.

Chelsea Parsons, former vice president of Gun Violence Prevention at the Center for American Progress, said: “What other countries have done demonstrates that you can have policymakers react quickly after a horrific tragedy to make the country and communities safer from gun violence.”

It remains to be seen if such vital lessons will be learnt from the tragedy in Robb Elementary, Texas.