The Crazy Process You Have to Go Through to Buy a Gun in Australia (Compared to the U.S.)

It’s sad but true — in America, we can hardly go a few weeks without news of a mass shooting. Some companies are responding by severing ties with the National Rifle Association, but gun control comes at a slow pace because some politicians get big campaign contributions from the NRA. However, one country’s sweeping gun law changes provide a blueprint for how things could change in the United States.
Australia and the United States have wildly different processes when it comes to getting a gun. Here’s a quick comparison. We’ll discuss the one reason Australia made gun law changes in favor of gun control, and how buying a gun is drastically different in each country.

The 1 reason Australia has strict gun control laws

Port Arthur Massacre australia
After the attack, the government sprung into action. | William West/AFP/Getty Images
  • Port Arthur Massacre of 1996
  • 53 people killed or wounded

The Port Arthur Massacre in April of 1996 is the event that prompted Australia to completely rewrite its gun laws. Acting alone and using automatic and semi-automatic guns, Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 18 during a rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia. Bryant’s killing spree happened on April 28, 1996, he was apprehended the next day, and he was sentenced on Nov. 22, 1996.
Next: Before and after

Australia’s gun control laws then…

Australia gun buy back
Things were pretty similar to how they are in the U.S. | Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images
  • More than 400 firearm suicides in 1994
  • Estimated 3.5 million firearms at the time

Before the Port Arthur Massacre, the gun laws in Australia were similar to how they currently are in the United States — lax and disparate. There were no country-wide laws. Each of Australia’s states and territories had their own laws about ownership and legislation. In 1994 alone, there were more than 400 suicides and 90 deaths from firearms in Australia.
Next: Australia made quick, sweeping changes after Port Arthur.

… and now

Australia gun buy back
There hasn’t been a mass shooting since 1996. | William West/AFP/Getty Images
  • Sweeping Australian gun law changes in 1996
  • More than 640,000 firearms surrendered in a buyback program

By the end of 1996, the gun laws in Australia were totally different. Automatic and semiautomatic rifles, as well as pump-action shotguns, were completely banned. Australians surrendered more than 640,000 guns as part of a buyback program. Not only that, but the new law prohibited “the sale, resale, transfer, ownership, manufacture, and use” of the banned guns.
Next: Let’s do a two-step dance.

Buying a gun in the U.S. is easy

Guns on wall
Private sales is a huge loophole. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • In lots of states, it’s a two-step process
  • Sometimes, there is just one step

Despite all the gun violence in the United States, it’s still not very hard to get your hands on a gun. It’s usually a two-step process:

  • Pass a background check
  • Go buy a gun

However, roughly 40% of American gun owners avoid the background check. How? Through private sales. One of the big loopholes in American gun laws is that private sellers don’t have to do background checks. At gun shows or similar events, someone who wants to buy guns can get as many as they want immediately. Even a 13-year old who can’t legally own a gun can get one at a gun show, as this video shows.
Next: The laws in America are all over the place.

There aren’t any uniform gun control laws in the U.S.

Man sighting a rifle at a gun show
Laws vary widely state to state. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images
  • States write their own laws
  • Gun laws in America are all over the map, literally.

In the states with the loosest gun laws, such as Arizona, Wyoming, and Mississippi, you don’t need a permit to buy or carry guns. For instance, in Kansas college students at public schools can carry concealed weapons in class.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have states like California and New York where guns are highly regulated. Since states create their own laws, similar to Australia’s old method, you have some states with restrictive gun laws or laws that let police take guns from certain people.
Next: Getting armed down under is not easy.

The way it works in Australia

They actually make sure people are able to handle guns. | Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • You have to join a club first
  • The background check is very rigorous

Under Australia’s current gun laws, prospective gun owners need to join and regularly attend a hunting or shooting club before they can even think about buying a gun. Another option is proving you are a firearms collector, but that’s just the beginning of the process. According to the New York Times, Australians also have to:

  • Attend a firearms safety course
  • Pass a written and practical test
  • Show they have gun storage that meets regulations
  • Pass a rigorous background check that looks at criminal history, domestic violence, restraining orders, and arrest history.

Interviews with family or community members are also part of the background check process in Australia.
Next: Our Australian gun-buying journey is just beginning.

But wait, there’s more to it

gun range shooter practicing
You have to wait at least 28 days. | Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • You need a very specific permit
  • Then you wait weeks

After you join a hunting club, attend a safety course, pass the written and practical tests, set up your storage measures, and pass a background check, there’s still a lot more you have to do before buying a gun in Australia. You have to apply for (and receive) a permit, but the permit is specific to the type of gun you plan on buying. Then, after waiting at least 28 days, you can head out and buy the gun you’re permitted to buy.
Next: In terms of the gun-buying process, the U.S. is not keeping good company.

The U.S. is keeping sketchy company

Rebels in a truck waving guns in the air
We are most similar to Yemen. | Saleh Al-Obeidi/AFP/Getty Images
  • Only one other country makes it as easy to buy firearms
  • In most places, it’s a lot of work to get a gun

As we discussed on page 4, buying a gun in the U.S. is a two-step process. It might be a one-step process, depending on where you live and who you’re buying from. The New York Times reports that Yemen is the only other country where buying a gun is as easy as it is in the U.S. All it takes to buy a gun in Yemen is money and a person willing to sell you a gun.
Most of the world is like Australia when it comes to gun control laws. Buying a gun is a long process and owning a gun is a privilege, not a right. In Germany, police can search a gun owner’s home at any time to check that guns are being stored properly. Chinese citizens can’t have guns at home, they have to be stored at a shooting range.
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