Australian PM Slams U.S. 'Gun Culture' in Wake of Virginia Tech Shooting

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Australia's prime minister on Tuesday said the Virginia Tech shootings showed that America's "gun culture" was a negative force in society, praising his country's efforts to enact tough gun laws after a similar massacre 11 years ago.

John Howard staked his political leadership on pushing through the strict gun ownership laws after Martin John Bryant, armed with a bagful of automatic weapons, went on a killing spree in the tourist resort of Port Arthur in southern Tasmania state on April 28, 1996. Thirty-five people died.

The conservative Howard, a strong ally of President Bush, said the Virginia Tech shootings were the kind of tragedy he hoped would never be seen again in Australia.

"You can never guarantee these things won't happen again in our country," Howard told reporters.

"We had a terrible incident at Port Arthur, but it is the case that 11 years ago we took action to limit the availability of guns and we showed a national resolve that the gun culture that is such a negative in the United States would never become a negative in our country," he said.

The new gun laws in Australia, which banned military-style weapons and toughened licensing and storage restrictions, were unpopular among farmers and other gun owners that are key supporters of Howard's conservative coalition. The government paid owners to take more than 600,000 firearms off their hands in a national buyback scheme.

Experts say the laws have probably helped keep violent crime rates down, though gun ownership advocates say there is no proof the laws have made Australia safer.