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Australian shooting rampage 20 years ago offers lesson for cutting gun deaths

April 28, 2016 - AUSTRALIA

A gunman, killed 35 people and wounded 23 more in Port Arthur, Tasmania, 20 years ago, and the worst mass murder in Australia's history spurred bipartisan gun control measures that survive. The anniversary invites self-applause in Australia that the measures worked. It also invites debate about why the United States, where mass shooting deaths have become so common that one makes headlines only until the next one, doesn't follow suit.

Pushed through by the conservative government of then prime minister John Howard after the shooting by 28-year-old Martin Bryant, the National Firearms Agreement prohibited automatic and semiautomatic assault rifles and pump shotguns in all but unusual cases. It tightened licensing rules, established a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases, created a national gun registry and introduced a gun buy-back scheme, which took 643,000 firearms out of circulation.

A shooting at a Colorado family planning clinic on Nov 27 that killed three people and wounded nine remained in the headlines until a much more ambitious mass shooting in California on Dec 2 that killed 14 people and wounded 21, yet gun control remains one of the most divisive issues on the national agenda. Whereas Australia enacted gun controls after its traumatic Port Arthur shootings, the same traumatic events in the United States spur skyrocketing gun sales.

Port Arthur Massacre in Australia (History.com)

The Port Arthur Massacre (ABC)

Date written/update: 2015-12-10