Australia’s first mass shooting in over two decades has left seven people dead, 9 News Australia is reporting.
This particular incident is not the same as the more common definition of a “mass shooting” – that is, a person randomly opening fire, such as what happened in Las Vegas or Orlando. Instead, Western Australia authorities are referring to what may have been a domestic incident as a “mass shooting.”
Western Australia state Police Commissioner Chris Dawson says that an early-morning phone call led authorities to a gruesome scene. Near the tourist town of Margaret River in the southwestern part of the country, police were led to a rural property outside of the town of Osmington. There, they found seven bodies – three adults and four children – and two guns. The bodies of the adults were found outside of a building, while the bodies of the children were found inside.
Police do not believe that there is a “larger threat to public safety,” perhaps suggesting that the shooter was one of the people found dead. However, Dawson refused to comment on the possibility that this crime was a murder-suicide.
“Police are currently responding to what I can only describe as a horrific incident. This devastating tragedy will no doubt have a lasting impact on the families concerned, the whole community and, in particular, the local communities in our southwest.”
This marks the worst mass shooting in Australia in 22 years. In 1996, a gunman opened fire at a tourist attraction in the town of Port Arthur, killing 35 people and wounding 22 others. Afterward, Australia enacted some of the toughest gun-control laws in the world, buying back or even confiscating some one million weapons. Even U.S. President Barack Obama pointed to the Land Down Under’s gun laws as a model for responsible gun control.
The laws have been considered a success, with only one “mass shooting” occurring since then – a 2014 murder-suicide in which a farmer shot and killed his wife and his three children before turning the gun on himself.
Though strict, Australia’s gun laws do allow for some exceptions. In particular, farmers are given exceptions because of their “legitimate need” for firearms in vermin control and in being able to humanely destroy sick or injured livestock. However, farmers are not allowed to own so-called “assault weapons.”
There is no one accepted definition of the term “mass shooting,” and its use can depend largely on the agenda of the person using it. However, 9 News Australia posits that the “generally accepted” definition of the phrase is four deaths, not excluding the shooter.