Seven people were found shot to death early Friday morning in a rural area of Western Australia in a mass shooting believed to be the country's worst in more than two decades. Police discovered three adults and four children dead from gunshot wounds at a family home in Osmington, a village roughly three hours from Perth.
"The loss of any life is tragic, but the loss of four children and three adults — this is a significant tragedy," Western Australia Police Commissioner Chris Dawson told reporters at a press conference, as quoted by The New York Times. "Police are currently responding to what I can only describe as a horrific incident."
Those killed included a mother, grandparents, and four children from a family who'd moved to the small village of Osmington three years earlier to run a fruit orchard, NBC News reported. According to The Times, police are not currently looking for a suspect but wouldn't confirm if the incident had been a murder-suicide, either. Law enforcement officials also said they had no information to suggest that public safety was at risk, according to NBC News.
The incident is believed to be Australia's worst mass shooting since the country introduced a series of strict gun control measures following a 1996 mass shooting that left 35 people dead in Tasmania.
"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," Dawson said Friday.
Pamela Townshend, the president of the shire Osmington belonged to, had a similar message in comments she gave to The Guardian. "This is going to rock our whole community," she said, adding that Osmington "is extremely small" and "a place where everybody knows everybody."
"People are all very connected," Townshend added. "It's not only devastating for people who know the victims but there's this feeling of fear generated around violence and gun violence."
There is no universally-accepted standard for what constitutes a "mass shooting," but one common definition is a single event in which four or more people die from gunshot wounds at roughly the same time and location. Australia has seen only one other mass shooting since the Tasmania tragedy in 1996 under that definition, according to NBC News. A farmer reportedly shot and killed his wife and their three children in 2014 before turning the gun on himself.
Under Australian gun laws, the public is generally prohibited from owning semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. The country also enacted a buyback law, which gave gun owners "fair and proper compensation" for turning over their firearms. Australian gun laws also include a 28-day waiting period; detailed background checks; mandatory safety training; and a "justifiable reason" requirement, which states that anyone wanting to own a gun must present a "justifiable reason," according to the BBC. Farmers, are allowed to own guns under Australian law, however, as their occupation gives them "justifiable reason."
Australia's decision to quickly enact some of the world's most comprehensive gun control measures following the 1996 massacre is widely credited with significantly reducing the country's rate of mass shootings. According to data from the BBC, Australia saw 11 mass shootings in the 10 years before stricter gun laws were enacted, but just one mass shooting in the two decades since. What's more, a report published just last month in the the Annals of Internal Medicine found Australia's tightening of gun laws prevented "an estimated 16 mass shootings."
Friday's shooting in Osmington is now reportedly the second mass shooting the country has seen since enacting those tougher gun laws.