October 4, 2017 12:42 pm
Updated: October 5, 2017 8:24 am

Australia banned semi-automatic weapons after a mass murder: Here’s what happened next

The 1996 mass shooting in Port Arthur, Australia was a turning point for the country. The tragedy caused the government to enact some of the most comprehensive firearm laws in the world.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
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In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting that left 58 people dead and just under 500 injured, many are looking to Australia’s crackdown on gun ownership in the 1990s as an example of how to prevent a similar tragedy.

WATCH BELOW: Video coverage of Las Vegas shooting

In April 1996, a 28-year-old man armed with semi-automatic rifles entered a cafe in the small Australian town of Port Arthur,  shot and killed 35 people and injured 23 others. It was the worst mass shooting in Australian history.

READ MORE: Las Vegas police release chilling bodycam footage of mass shooting

The day after the massacre, the country’s prime minister, John Howard (a newly elected leader), started to put together the most sweeping gun control reforms ever contemplated by any Australian government.

The country passed the National Firearms Agreement, which banned automatic, semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns. It also introduced a stricter system for licensing and owning guns. The agreement is considered one of the strictest gun laws in the world.


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A nationwide gun buyback scheme also saw more than 640,000 weapons turned in to authorities. The guns were collected and destroyed.

It took just 14 days after the Port Arthur massacre for gun laws to be proposed and then passed by the Australian government.

READ MORE: Matt Damon ‘wishes’ for an Australian-style gun ban in the U.S.

In the decades before the Port Arthur killings, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia (defined by academics as the killing of five or more people, not including the shooter).

Since the 1996 gun reform, Australia has not had another mass shooting,

This is not to say gun violence has been eliminated. In December 2014, an armed gunman entered a Sydney cafe during the morning rush hour and took a group of people hostage. Two people were killed, and four were injured during the attack.

WATCH: Two gunman takes hostages at Australian cafe

But since the National Firearms Agreement was passed the level of gun violence has decreased, according to numerous studies.

In 1996, Australia had 311 homicides, of which 98 were with guns. In 2014, with the population up from about 18 million to 23 million, Australia had 238 homicides, of which 35 were with guns, according to Reuters.

READ MORE: A look at gun violence in America by the numbers

Another study released 10 years after the Port Arthur shooting, said: “Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms were followed by more than a decade free of fatal mass shootings, and accelerated declines in firearm deaths, particularly suicides.”

“Total homicide rates followed the same pattern. Removing large numbers of rapid-firing firearms from civilians may be an effective way of reducing mass shootings, firearm homicides and firearm suicides,” the study stated.

Will the U.S. follow suit?

Since the mass shooting in Las Vegas, many are asking the United States government to renew the debate on gun control.

Late-night comics, such as Jimmy Kimmel, responded to the tragedy in Las Vegas and pleaded for the country to change its gun control laws.

WATCH: Jimmy Kimmel calls on U.S. gov’t to take action on gun control: ‘I think it is time for debate?’

Members of congress and activists are also calling to stop a bill that will loosen restrictions on guns. Before the Las Vegas shooting, House GOP leaders were in the process of moving forward with legislation to ease regulations on gun silencers and allow those with concealed-carry permits to take their weapons to other states.

READ MORE: U.S. Congress urged to stop gun-silencer bill after Vegas shooting

Despite the push for stricter gun laws, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has signalled they do not intend to re-open the debate federally.

On Monday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was too soon to begin a debate on gun control.

WATCH: Trump signals gun control debate will not be re-opened in the wake of Vegas shooting

“There’s a time and place for a political debate but now is the time to unite as a country,” Sanders said.

“There’s currently an open and ongoing law enforcement investigation. A motive has yet to be determined and it would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don’t know all the facts or what took place last night.”

WATCH: ‘Enough is enough’: U.S. Senate Democrats push to close ‘loopholes’ in gun control following Vegas attack

Australia offers to help U.S.

After the Las Vegas shooting, the Australian foreign minister offered to help the U.S. government reform its gun law, citing the 1996 ban on semi-automatic and automatic weapons.

“What we can offer is our experience,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Tuesday. “But at the end of the day it’s going to be up to the United States legislators and lawmakers, and the United States public, to change the laws to ensure this type of incident doesn’t happen again.”

READ MORE: Despite Orlando Massacre, US Senate rejects gun control reform

Tim Fischer, who was deputy prime minister at the time of the Port Arthur shooting, urged Donald Trump to “get real” and make lasting change on the issue part of his legacy as president.

“I’m sick of hearing people say after gun massacres in the U.S. that now is not the time to debate gun control. Now is the perfect time,” Fischer told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

*With files from the Associated Press and Reuters

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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