. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Australia Outlaws Assault Weapons

SYDNEY -- Vowing not to emulate America's love affair with guns, Australian officials decided Friday to outlaw assault rifles, combat shotguns and machine guns, just 12 days after a gunman massacred 35 people.

"This is an historic moment for all Australians still reeling from the fatal shootings at Port Arthur," Prime Minister John Howard said.

"It means that this country has decided not to go down the American path," he said.

The meeting of federal, state and territory police ministers in Canberra also agreed to a uniform national approach to registration and licensing.

Polls taken over the last week showed support for gun control laws at 85 to 90 percent among the public.

The state of Tasmania, where a young gunman perpetrated the worst massacre in Australia's modern history by slaying 35 people on April 28 to 29, led the way for reform by banning assault rifles earlier this week.

Martin Bryant, 28, has been charged with one murder in the Port Arthur massacre, and more charges are expected soon. Police say he used an AR-15 assault rifle, which is the semiautomatic version of an M-16; and a Chinese SKS assault rifle, a copy of the Russian AK-47. Neither gun was licensed to him, as state law required.

Australia had lax or inconsistent state gun laws until the early 1990s. In Tasmania, it was possible to buy a machine gun over the counter without a license. The key to effective gun control was a uniform approach that would insure some states did not become gun havens.

The watershed decision was made possible not only by the massive public outrage over gun violence, but also by Howard's landslide victory in national elections just two months ago.

Still holding a huge mandate, Howard seized on the gun control issue after the massacre. And all but one state or territory is governed by his conservative coalition.

Howard confirmed there would be a buy-back plan for prohibited guns, with the funding to be determined in later talks with the states.

Sporting Shooters Association of Australia president Ted Drane has claimed the buy-back of automatic and semiautomatic weapons could cost the government more than $237 million.

Gun control advocates say that is a vastly inflated figure, and estimated the buy-back will cost some tens of millions of dollars.

Drane called Howard "a fool," and added: "This amounts to one of the greatest infringements on the liberties of individuals in Australia's history."