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The Port Arthur massacre and the National Firearms Agreement: 20 years on, what are the lessons?

Twenty years after the Port Arthur massacre and the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), it is timely to examine how assertive national firearms regulation has prevented firearm mortality and injuries, and gun lobby claims that mental illness underpins much gun violence.

On 28 April 1996, Martin Bryant, a lone gunman using semi-automatic weapons killed 35 people at Port Arthur, Tasmania. In response, the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, negotiated strict national gun control laws, banning automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and introducing uniform stringent firearms licensing, a waiting period, security and storage requirements, sales regulation, and instituting compulsory buybacks of the banned weapons. Licensing required a proven genuine reason, with prohibition or cancellation for violence, apprehended violence or health reasons. The Commonwealth, states and territories implemented the NFA in 1996 and the National Handgun Control Agreement in 2002 with bipartisan support. In their wake, the national firearms stockpile reduced by one-third and public mass shootings have so far ceased. Although total homicides have declined since 1969, stabbings exceed shootings (more lately increasingly [http://www.aic.gov.au/statistics/homicide/weapon.html]), and hanging may later have substituted for gun suicides, rates of total gun deaths, homicides and suicides…