A Brief History
On April 28, 1996, a 28 year old that had inherited over half a million dollars went on a shooting rampage in Tasmania, killing 35 innocent people and earning 35 life in prison sentences when he was later convicted of the crimes. Not surprisingly, the shooter was later found to have intellectual and/or mental/emotional problems.
Martin Bryant had inherited the money at the age of 25 in 1992, using it to go on trips all over the world, without establishing a career of any note. Along the way, he also purchased an AR-10 type rifle, a civilian version of the ubiquitous AR-15 type of semi-automatic rifle but chambered in .308 caliber (7.62mm NATO) instead of the 5.56mm standard on the AR-15. Martin had grown up with certain tendencies that caused him to not fit in with society, and even his own mother found him annoying and “troubling.” A psychiatrist said of the boy, “He would never hold down a job, as he would aggravate people to such an extent that he would always be in trouble.” Disruptive in school and a poor student, Martin was also the target for local bullies. In 1983 when Martin left school, another psychiatrist found him to be functionally illiterate and possibly schizophrenic. Martin thus qualified for an intellectual disability pension, similar to American Social Security Disability. Later, after his arrest for the murder spree, authorities that examined him psychologically found him to suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome and “Though Mr. Bryant was clearly a distressed and disturbed young man, he was not mentally ill.”
In 1987 Martin had met a 54 year old woman and became friends, often helping the lady take care of her many dogs and cats. Martin moved in with Helen Mary Elizabeth Harvey in 1991 when she was forced to move because of the great number of her pets. The odd couple spent many thousands of dollars on luxuries such as many automobiles. An updated psychiatric assessment during this time indicated Martin had violent tendencies. Helen had come into money via a lottery jackpot and left her fortune to Martin when she died in a car wreck in 1992. Martin was a passenger in the car driven by Helen in the fatal wreck, and he also suffered significant injuries, remaining hospitalized for 7 months. After Martin spent a lot of his inheritance traveling and being idle, Martin had become increasingly depressed and started drinking alcohol in the couple years leading up to his rampage and began expressing suicidal thoughts. In 1993, Martin’s father, suffering from depression, committed suicide. Martin inherited another $250,000 upon his father’s death. He then sold the family farm for another $143,000.
Frustrated in a real estate deal that fell through, the purchase of a bed and breakfast Martin had his eye on, Martin hit on the idea of becoming “notorious” through a grand act of murder. Although Australia had enacted strict new gun control measures in 1995, Tasmania had refused to go along with the Australian restrictions on semi-automatic arms. In fact, only handguns needed to be registered in Tasmania. Shortly before the massacre Martin had taken his AR-10 to a gun shop for repair, while looking into the purchase of AR-15 type rifles. Apparently, no mechanism was in place in Tasmania to see to it that a person adjudicated mentally incompetent (enough to be on disability) did not have access to firearms.
On April 28, 1996, Martin’s current girl friend left their residence to visit her family, and Martin set off on his murderous rampage. First stop was the bed and breakfast he had sought, where he shot up the place and tied up and stabbed the owners, killing the couple. A couple of travelers came by the B&B while Martin was still there after the murders and inquired about a room. Martin made excuses and the couple left, unharmed, not knowing how close they had come to mortal danger!
Martin went to Port Arthur where he got a meal at a café, before pulling out an AR-15 carbine in 5.56mm caliber. The massacre that had begun at the Seascape B&B was now in full throttle, as Martin began shooting people all around him. Only after several people had been shot and killed did the rest of the crowd seem to grasp the situation and began diving under tables or running away. Martin fired 17 times, killing 12 people and injuring 10 more. Martin moved to the gift shop and continued his shooting spree, killing another 8 people and wounding another 2, while firing only an additional 12 shots.
As the crowd and the gunman both went outside, Martin continued his fusillade against the unarmed people, shooting up the parking area including tourist buses. Martin had killed another 6 victims and wounded 6 more.
Martin, apparently deranged and exulting in his murderous glory, got into his car and left, waving at the stunned people and honking his horn! Approaching a nearby toll booth, Martin saw people fleeing and took them under fire. He exited his car and began executing defenseless people, many of whom had pleaded for their lives or the lives of loved ones. Some were shot point blank with the muzzle of the rifle against their head. Before Martin left the toll booth area, he had shot another 8 people, killing 7 of them.
One wounded victim drove his car to a nearby gas station to spread the alarm, and Martin pulled into the station himself and started shooting again. A young woman became the 34th person killed. While still at the gas station Martin took a hostage, handcuffed the man and put him in the trunk (boot) of the BMW Martin was driving. Martin then left the gas station and continued to shoot at cars on the road as he drove back to the B&B where the murder spree had started.
The next morning police showed up at the B&B, and a stand off ensued. Martin had already killed the hostage (fatality #35) and had set the place on fire. When the fire became too intense for Martin to remain inside, he finally ran out with his clothes on fire and was taken into custody. Police recovered the 2 AR style rifles in the burnt wreckage of the B&B, both guns heavily damaged.
Sentenced to 35 life sentences, Martin will probably remain in jail the rest of his life. Australia passed even stricter gun laws in response to the Port Arthur Massacre, outlawing semi-automatic rifles and shotguns entirely, and for good measure pump-action shotguns as well. Strict licensing requirements were placed for ownership of firearms. Investigators analyzing the killing spree of Martin Bryant believe he may have been inspired by the Dunblane Massacre in Scotland only a few weeks prior to the Tasmanian event.
As we have reported several times already, mass shootings do NOT only happen in the United States, nor do other forms of mass murder. As with so many of these tragedies, warning signs that the perpetrator may represent a threat to society and should be disarmed were not noted or followed up. Would “Red Flag” mental/emotional alert laws have prevented the Port Arthur Massacre? Give us your opinion on the proposed “Red Flag” laws that have been discussed recently in the wake of such mass shootings.
Question for students (and subscribers): Which is more important, gun control or people control? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Rosewood, Jack. Martin Bryant: The Port Arthur Massacre: Historical Serial Killers and Murderers. Amazon, 2015.
Zimmerman, Oskar. The 2nd Empty Chair: The Port Arthur Paradox. Amazon, 2018.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Elzbenz taken in December 2015 in the Port Arthur massacre Memorial Garden, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.