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Australia solved its gun problem. Could America?

A makeshift memorial for the victims of Sunday evening's mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

On the October 3 episode of The Weeds, Sarah Kliff, Ezra Klein, and Matt Yglesias discuss the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas and gun control policy changes that have worked to dramatically lower suicide and homicide rates in other countries.

Ezra opens the show by describing American policymakers’ now-predictable response to every mass shooting in the country, calling it “a bit of kabuki theater.”

“What you tend to have is Democrats saying, ‘Hey, listen, this keeps happening, we should do something about it.’ And as a way of showing that Republicans are completely and utterly unreasonable on this issue — which is true — they propose policies that would not actually do that much about the underlying problem, but Republicans still say no to even those policies,” he says.

Later Ezra, Sarah, and Matt examine Australia, a country that instituted radical reforms after a 1996 mass shooting in a tourist town called Port Arthur that left 35 people dead and another 28 injured. In the aftermath of that shooting, the Australian government introduced a program that offered to buy back people’s guns.

Through that program, the government was able to get rid of about 650,000 guns. But as Sarah notes, the program went further still, introducing a ban on automatic and semiautomatic weapons, putting in new licensing requirements, and making people wait 28 days before they purchased a gun.

“It cost half a billion dollars; it was funded by raising taxes,” Sarah says. “It feels absurd, imagining a proposal in the US to raise taxes to fund this suite of policies. It seems like something you wouldn’t even start with here in the US.”

The proposal worked, with suicide rates in Australia dropping about 57 percent after the reforms were implemented, and homicide rates dropping 47 percent, according to studies by Harvard researchers.

Ezra commented on the fact that Americans tend to talk about gun control policies whenever there is a mass shooting, even though these tragedies actually account for a low percentage of total gun deaths:

One way in which taking a lot of these guns off the streets would be helpful is not just in preventing these kinds of mass shootings, but in preventing everyday suicides, which are in America very, very gun-related and very successful.

In America, we have an even worse gun problem. We’re not talking about solutions of anything near this scale, and so we are getting terrible, terrible results with these continuous deaths, continuous mass shootings, continuous suicide problems. And it is always worth saying, this is a choice, it is a policy choice we would make — every day we choose to continue on in this world is a day we are choosing this world. We know there are ways to choose a different pathway, and we are just as a country deciding not to take them.

Show notes: