Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke says ‘hell yes’ he will forcefully take back assault weapons from Americans — here are 5 countries that have taken radical steps to eliminate firearm deaths

Mick Roelandts, firearms reform project manager for the New South Wales Police, looks at a pile of 4,500 firearms handed in under Australia's gun buyback plan in July, 1997.

Mick Roelandts, firearms reform project manager for the New South Wales Police, looks at a pile of 4,500 firearms handed in under Australia’s gun buyback plan in July, 1997.
David Gray/Reuters

American presidential candidates are now proposing to take away assault-style weapons, including former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. During Thursday’s Democratic presidential primary debate, moderator David Muir asked O’Rourke about his views on a buyback plan.

“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said, referring to the firearms.

The debate stage Thursday reflected an increased urgency on the left regarding guns following the latest rash of killings. Two mass shootings occurred in a single weekend in August. A 21-year-old gunman entered a Walmart on August 3 in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people and injuring 26 more. In Dayton, Ohio, a gunman killed nine people and injured 27 others, just 13 hours later.

As shootings like these continue in the US, so do questions about gun control. Americans who fear their town or city could be the site of the next attack wonder what strategies the US could take to reduce gun violence.

No country has the same political structure as the US, but several have taken steps that worked for them. Here are their insights.

Australia paid citizens to sell their guns to the government.

Mick Roelandts, firearms reform project manager for the New South Wales Police, looks at a pile of 4,500 firearms handed in under Australia's gun buyback plan in July, 1997.

David Gray/Reuters

A spate of violence in the 1980s and ’90s that culminated in a 1996 shooting that left 35 dead led Australian Prime Minister John Howard to convene an assembly to devise gun-control strategies.

The group landed on a massive buyback program, costing hundreds of millions of dollars offset by a one-time tax increase, that bought and destroyed more than 600,000 automatic and semiautomatic weapons and pump-action shotguns.

Over the next few years, gun-death totals were cut nearly in half. Firearm suicides dropped to 0.8 per 100,000 people in 2006 from 2.2 in 1995, while firearm homicides dropped to 0.15 per 100,000 people in 2006 from 0.37 in 1995.

A US buyback would mean destroying more than 40 million guns – but at the state level, the undertaking might not be so massive.

Japan puts citizens through a rigorous set of tests.

Japan, which has strict laws for obtaining firearms, seldom has more than 10 shooting deaths a year in a population of 127 million people.

If Japanese people want to own a gun, they must attend an all-day class, pass a written test, and achieve at least 95% accuracy during a shooting-range test.

Then they have to pass a mental-health evaluation at a hospital, as well as a background check, in which the government digs into any criminal records or ties and interviews friends and family members.

Finally, they can buy only shotguns and air rifles – no handguns – and must retake the class and the initial exam every three years.

Norway exemplifies the power of social cohesion and trust.

Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

Compared with the US, Norway has about one-third of the number of guns per 100 civilians – and about one-tenth of the rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people.

Sociologists who study the Nordic model have found that social cohesion between citizens and the government goes a long way toward ensuring a (mostly) peaceful society.

For example, an analysis in 2015 found that the number of fatal shootings by police in Norway in the past nine years was less than the number of fatal shootings by US police officers in one day.

Gummi Oddsson, a cross-cultural sociologist from Northern Michigan University, has found that Nordic governments go to great lengths to build trust in local communities.

He told Business Insider that US states could look to strengthen a sense of trust through measures like community policing, a tactic that emphasizes partnership between law enforcement and communities.

The thinking goes that people will begin to feel safer around the police, who will then have a better understanding of the neighborhood and be able to address problems before they happen.

The United Kingdom took a multipronged approach.

Reuters/Andrew Yates

The UK’s approach combines elements from Norway, Australia, and Japan’s policies.

Around when Australia adopted its gun regulations, UK Parliament passed legislation banning private ownership of handguns in Britain and banned semiautomatic and pump-action firearms throughout the UK. It also required shotgun owners to register their weapons.

A $200 million buyback program led to the government’s purchase of 162,000 guns and 700 tons of ammunition from citizens. estimates that in 2010 there were 3.78 guns per 100 people in the UK, while the US, meanwhile, is estimated to have 101 guns per 100 people.

The result has been roughly 50 to 60 gun deaths a year in England and Wales, which have a population of 56 million. Compare that to the US, a country about six times as large that has more than 160 times as many gun-related homicides.

New Zealand is instituting a policy similar to Australia’s.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern holds a press conference after the Christchurch shootings, March 2019.
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Most recently, New Zealand has instituted a ban on semi-automatic rifles after a mass shooting in Christchurch left 51 people dead and dozens more injured in March 2019. The gunman, a self-professed white supremacist, targeted two mosques during a Friday prayer with semi-automatic weapons.

Six days later, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the ban. So far, 10% of guns have been collected, so reports the The New Zealand Herald; over 12,000 people have handed in almost 20,000 firearms and 75,000 parts, with the equivalent of about $23 million US dollars paid out.

“On 15 March our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too,” Prime Minister Ardern said in a press conference. “We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place.”

Experts say a nationwide ban on assault weapons wouldn’t work in the US due to the influential gun lobby, which has helped to strike down other gun control legislation.

“They don’t have an NRA,” Gregory Koger, a University of Miami political science professor, told Insider. “There’s no organization of gun owners and gun companies that systematically and persistently opposes regulations of guns.”