Australian shooting site reopens; nobody goes

But anti-gun rallies draw thousands


May 4, 1996
Web posted at: 11:15 p.m. EDT (0315 GMT)

PORT ARTHUR, Australia (CNN) -- Port Arthur, the site of a mass shooting on Sunday, was reopened to the public on Saturday, and officials urged the public to visit as part of the nation's healing process.

Although admission to the historic park will be free for the next two weeks to all visitors, only a few dozen people came Saturday. An average Saturday turnout would be about 600 people, park officials said. They speculated that people didn't want to be considered morbid or nosy -- "to be seen as sticky beaks," as one Australian official put it.

A lone gunman armed with a high-powered rifle is accused of going on a shooting spree that killed 32 people at and around the popular Tasmanian park. Martin Bryant fled a burning bed and breakfast cottage Monday morning where three people he'd held hostage burned to death. He was burned over much of his body, and remained hospitalized Saturday. He has been charged with one murder.

rally rally rally

Anti-gun rallies drew thousands more people than did the reopened park. In the Tasmanian capital of Hobart, about 2,500 people congregated outside the outside parliament, demanding tighter gun control laws. A similar rally in Sydney, Australia, drew 1,000 people despite rainy, chilly weather.

In Australia, gun control laws are up to each state's discretion. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has proposed imposing a national ban on all automatic and semi-automatic firearms. On May 10, a special meeting of police ministers from all six Australian states and two territories will decide whether to pass the nationwide ban.

However, it is not clear that it will be accepted. Until the shooting, Tasmania had the weakest gun laws of any Australian state. It has already announced that it will push for a total ban, and the state of New South Wales has moved to give gun control law decisions back to the country. But other states, including Queensland, are opposed to uniform national gun laws.

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