After a mass shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, Colo., on Monday that left 10 people dead, President Joe Biden called for lawmakers to impose background checks on gun buyers and a ban on assault-style firearms.
In the wake of similar massacres, which are frequent in the United States but have taken place all over the world, many countries have imposed far more ambitious gun control measures than what courts interpreting the U.S. Constitution would permit.
Here are the policy changes some countries made after their own mass shootings.
In August 1987, Michael Robert Ryan gunned down 16 people in Hungerford, England. The scale of the massacre shocked the country. At the time, The Washington Post described it as the “worst such incident in modern British history.”
Ryan, 27 and unemployed, was armed with a Chinese copy of a Kalashnikov AK-47 and a variety of other guns. His motive was never discovered. He killed himself and his mother, his only close relative.
In response to the massacre, British Home Secretary Douglas Hurd called for an investigation into Ryan’s legal ownership of the guns he used. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, passed with the backing of Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing Conservative government, outlawed semiautomatic weapons and limited sales of some types of shotguns.
These weapons were rare in Britain, so the impact was limited. But after another mass shooting in March 1997, when Thomas Hamilton killed 15 children and their teacher at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland using Browning and Smith & Wesson handguns, more sweeping rules were put in place.
Public anger over the killings led to a powerful grass roots campaign called Snowdrop. The 1997 Firearms Act ended up restricting ownership of almost all handguns. Tens of thousands of guns were collected from owners, who were given market value for the weapons. The police spent years cracking down on illegal gun ownership.
Gun violence peaked in 2005 and gradually declined in the years since.
Relatives of those who died in Britain’s mass shootings have said their experiences could help the United States reckon with gun control reform.
“Eyes are going to be on Dunblane, and we don’t need the eyes on Dunblane any more,” Jack Crozier, whose 5-year-old sister Emma was killed in the massacre, said at an anniversary event in March. “But we need to be looking at what is going on in other countries, and America in particular.”
Martin Bryant, 29, killed 35 people near Port Arthur historic prison in Tasmania, Australia, using a legally purchased Colt AR-15 semiautomatic rifle in April 1996. It was the deadliest massacre in Australia during the 20th century and came just weeks after the killings in Dunblane.
The slayings drew widespread attention to Australia’s gun laws, which were especially relaxed in Tasmania. The island, which has its own state government, had only required gun licenses since 1988 and did not require rifles to be registered.
The Australian federal government, then led by center-right Prime Minister John Howard, coordinated with states to restrict the ownership of automatic and semiautomatic rifles and shotguns. Within a year, the government bought back 650,000 firearms.
Some studies have indicated the program may have been a success and that Australia became a less violent place in the years since the buyback.
In 2013, Howard wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that called on President Barack Obama to follow his model. “Few Australians would deny that their country is safer today as a consequence of gun control,” Howard wrote.
– New Zealand
In March 2019, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and killed 51 Muslim worshipers with weapons that included an AR-15 style rifle. Less than 24 hours later, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country would change its gun laws.
Unlike Australia, New Zealand had relatively relaxed gun regulations and a powerful gun lobby. There were an estimated 250,000 gun owners in the country, which has a population of 5 million people, before the attack. Tarrant, an Australian citizen who had been living in New Zealand since 2017, had purchased his weapons legally, though he had illegally modified some.
Adern was able to gather swift support for tougher gun laws, putting temporary measures in place within days. The following month, parliament made the changes official, with overwhelming bipartisan support and only one lawmaker opposing. Among the plans were a gun buyback scheme, as well as restrictions on AR-15s and other semiautomatic weapons.
Because of the lax tracking of these weapons, authorities were initially unsure how many there were in the country. “It’s really an open checkbook,” Joe Green, gun-safety specialist and former arms control manager for the New Zealand Police, told The Washington Post, “because they don’t know how many they are buying back.”
A second round of gun laws were passed in 2020, which required set up a new firearms registry which gun license holders were required to update as they buy or sell guns.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in June 2019, Adern said she was bewildered by the United States’ reluctance to pass gun control laws. “Australia experienced a massacre and changed their laws. New Zealand had its experience and changed its laws. To be honest with you, I do not understand the United States,” she said.
In April 2020, Gabriel Wortman, dressed in an authentic Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniform and driving a mocked-up police cruiser, went on a 13-hour rampage through rural Nova Scotia, killing 22 people in the deadliest mass shooting in modern Canadian history.
Police shot the 51-year-old denturist dead at a gas station. Court documents showed that he was armed with two semiautomatic rifles and two pistols. He did not have a firearms license and some of the weapons were smuggled in from the United States.
Two weeks later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on more than 1,500 makes and models of “military-style assault weapons,” including the AR-15 and the Ruger Mini-14, which was used in a 1989 massacre that left 14 dead at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. It makes it illegal to shoot, transport, sell, import or bequeath those weapons.
Trudeau, who pledged stricter gun control measures during the 2019 election campaign, said his government had been working on a ban before the pandemic. The Conservative Party said the ban, which was imposed through regulatory measures, was opportunistic.
Last month, the federal government introduced legislation that would create “red flag” laws, establish new firearms offenses and allow municipalities to ban handguns through bylaws restricting their possession, storage and transportation.
It also promised to introduce a buyback program for prohibited firearms that it announced last year. An amnesty would be in place until the end of April 2022 to allow owners of those weapons to comply. The buyback program has angered survivors of mass shootings because it is voluntary. Family members of those killed at the Ecole Polytechnique said that Trudeau would no longer be welcomed at commemorations of the shooting unless the buyback program is mandatory.