Australia looks to extend gun ban
SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Australia will consider extending its ban on semi-automatic and automatic weapons to handguns following the Erfurt massacre in Germany at the weekend.
Semi-automatic handguns such as the one used by teenage German killer Robert Steinhaeuser are readily available in Australia, despite the outlawing of automatic and semi-automatic rifles about five years ago.
Prime Minister John Howard said Tuesday Australia had too many handguns and that the federal government would look at what it could do to bring down the numbers.
Howard said part of the difficulty in cracking down on handguns was that the ownership laws were determined by State governments, not federal legislation.
"I have sought some more advice on that issue which I hope to get today, and if there are further things that we at a federal level can do, we will do (it)," he said.
Howard said, however, that he respected the right of sporting shooters groups to possess handguns, as well as the police and other security organizations.
"I'm happy to put every option on the table and I'll renew my call to the state premiers if they have any suggestions they want to make to me they can ring me up and I'll be very happy to consider it because I think it is an appalling thing that handguns are still so freely available," he said.
Howard braved considerable opposition from the pro-gun lobby and rural groups in Australia to ban most automatic and semi-automatic weapons in Australia following the horrific Port Arthur massacre.
In April 1996, a young gunman, Martin Bryant, used semi-automatic weapons to murder 35 people and injure another 18 at the remote tourist destination of Port Arthur in Tasmania.
But due to loopholes in State laws, handguns were not included in the weapons crackdown.
Australia's National Coalition for Gun Control said Tuesday high-powered, rapid-fire semi-automatic handguns were readily available across Australia.
"On the anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre, we call for the (state) police ministers and the prime minister to show the courage to move to immediately ban all semi-automatic handguns," gun coalition convener Samantha Lee said.
Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said Tuesday there were around 300,000 legally owned handguns in Australia spread amongst a population of 19.5 million people.
Thousands of these guns end up in criminal circles, she said.
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