On the 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre, around 500 people attended a special service on Thursday at the main site of the infamous event, to remember its victims.
Among those gathered in Tasmania were Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Deputy Liberal Party Leader Julie Bishop and former prime minister, John Howard.
Mr Howard was prime minister at the time of the massacre and led the tightening of Australia’s gun laws following the Port Arthur tragedy.
“John Howard, as our prime minister, demonstrated leadership and resolve that set a benchmark around the world,” Mr Turnbull told those in attendance.
“Out of the tragedy here at Port Arthur, a new chapter was written in our national story.”
Recalling the events of that tragic day, Mr Turnbull noted the humanity expressed by victims in the face of death.
“Standing against that act of evil were so many acts of love; husbands died protecting their wives, mothers died protecting their children,” he said.
In 1996, Martin Bryant opened fire on visitors to Port Arthur. Using a semi-automatic rifle, Bryant killed 35 innocent people and wounded another 23 at and near the historic site in a spree of murder over two days.
In response to the massacre, the then new Howard government introduced the National Firearms Programme Implementation Act 1996. The act restricts the private ownership of semi-automatic rifles and various high capacity hand guns and shotguns.
The legislation was coupled with a huge gun buy-back scheme to reduce the number of such weapons in circulation in Australia.
The Port Arthur Massacre remains the worst such incident in Australian history and is the third worst mass shooting by an individual in the world.
Martin Bryant was arrested, found guilty and handed 35 life sentences. He remains in prison.
Australia’s strict gun laws are often referenced in the USA’s ongoing political debate over gun laws. Current Democratic presidential front-runner Hilary Clinton has cited the Australian laws and buy-back scheme as an example when explaining her strong anti-guns stance.
TOP IMAGE: Malcolm Turnbull pays his respects at Port Arthur (Courtesy: @TurnbullMalcolm in Twitter)