In the days that followed the Port Arthur massacre, Australia moved to ban semi-automatic weapons. More than 20 years later, New Zealand looks set to follow suit.

The April 1996 Port Arthur massacre, in which 35 people were killed, is the deadliest mass shooting in Australia's history. It prompted a massive overhaul of the country's gun control laws, after killer Martin Bryant used two military style semi-automatic rifles to carry out his deadly spree.

Then Prime Minister John Howard led the development of strict gun control laws, restricting the private ownership of semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns, as well as introducing uniform firearms licensing.

"The bitter irony with this alleged perpetrator in Christchurch is he would not have been able to buy the weapons he had in his home country of Australia," said Chris Cahill, president of the Police Association, over the weekend.

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"Immediately after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 the then Prime Minister John Howard acted swiftly to ban semi-automatic weapons and Australians were with him."

Just months after taking office, Howard moved quickly to push for new laws which banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons, established a comprehensive national firearm registration, and an amnesty period for prohibited and unregistered weapons to be surrendered.

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard led the development of strict gun control laws. Photo / File
Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard led the development of strict gun control laws. Photo / File

In the "buy-back" scheme, the Australian government purchased 700,000 firearms.

The attempts to reform gun laws in Australia were still controversial.

Hundreds of thousands of people protested the campaign; Howard even wore a bullet-proof vest when speaking to an angry crowd.

However, the new laws were changed and remain Howard's defining legacy.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has indicated New Zealand could follow suit, with a complete ban on semi-automatics and a buy-back scheme both possible options the Government is considering.

"I can tell you one thing right now," Ardern said within 24 hours of the Christchurch mosques attack. "Our gun laws will change."

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