Deadly Shooting Shocks Australia, Known For Tough Gun Control Laws

Four people have died in Australia after a gunman opened fire in multiple locations in an urban business district, an attack that has shaken a country often touted for its strong gun control laws.

The hourlong shooting happened Tuesday night in Darwin, the capital city in Australia’s Northern Territory. It turned a park, bars and other locations into crime scenes.

On Wednesday, Northern Territory Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw told reporters that the suspect had used a 12-gauge pump action shotgun, a banned firearm that he said might have been stolen as far back as 1997 — when Australia was beginning a tectonic shift to stricter gun legislation.

Police said the suspect was taken into custody within an hour of the shooting. They described him as being known to law enforcement and on parole since January. In fact, Kershaw said the gunman had been wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet at the time of the shooting.

The police commissioner said the man contacted a police duty superintendent Tuesday night and asked to be placed into protective custody. “We do believe he may have been trying to hand himself in,” Kershaw said during a news conference Tuesday night. “We’re not too sure.”

Marietta Martinovic, a criminology expert from Australia’s RMIT University, told NPR it is a “real anomaly” for someone to commit a crime while wearing a monitoring bracelet.

“It’s extremely uncommon for someone to make a decision to reoffend and not cut the bracelet,” Martinovic said, as it puts them right at the scene of the crime. She said the bracelet could easily be removed using a pair of scissors.

Michael Gunner, chief minister of the Northern Territory, said his office asked the Parole Review Board for a report about what happened, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “And we have asked for everyone who is on parole and on electronic monitoring to also be reviewed,” he said.

Australian media outlets identified Hassan Baydoun, a 33-year-old taxi driver, as one of the victims in the attack. He had moved from Lebanon to Australia to study at a university and had recently graduated with a masters in information technology. He was reportedly shot during a food break.

The three other people killed in the attack were men aged 52 to 75, according to ABC. A 22-year-old woman reportedly was also wounded.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the shooting a “terrible act of violence.”

Australia tightened its gun laws after a mass shooting at Port Arthur in the state of Tasmania in 1996. A 28-year-old man armed with a semi-automatic rifle killed 35 people at the popular tourist destination.

After the massacre, Australia cracked down on firearms. It bought back hundreds of thousands of weapons through a national program, banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons and required long waiting periods on gun purchases. People with unregistered firearms risk hefty fines and prison sentences. Some 57,000 illegal weapons were collected in a three-month amnesty in 2017 alone, the government said.

Tuesday’s attack has been described in Australian media as one of the country’s worst in decades.

“I can’t imagine [Australia’s] laws becoming any more restrictive,” Martinovic told NPR. “I think as a nation we’re pretty happy with where our gun laws are.”

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