Former prime minister John Howard has entered the US gun reform debate through a piece he wrote for the New York Times today. Recalling how his government reacted in the wake of the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996, Howard details our own journey towards gun reform. Irrespective of your political leanings, it’s hard not to acknowledge Howard’s gun laws as one of the most important acts of reform in Australian history. Seriously, where was the Rebecca Gibney starring telemovie?
5 Things We Learned About Howard’s War On Guns
Aussie gun owners were more receptive because they were getting a little somethin’ somethin’ in return. A similar approach in the US would put a massive strain on their economy.
To make this plan work, there had to be a federally financed gun buyback
scheme. Ultimately, the cost of the buyback was met by a special
one-off tax imposed on all Australians. This required new legislation
and was widely accepted across the political spectrum. Almost 700,000
guns were bought back and destroyed — the equivalent of 40 million guns
in the United States.
What a surprise. Racists and bigots like guns.
The leaders of the National Party, as well as the premier of Queensland,
courageously supported my government’s decision, despite the electoral
pain it caused them. Within a year, a new populist and conservative
political party, the One Nation Party, emerged and took many votes from
our coalition in subsequent state and federal elections; one of its key
policies was the reversal of the gun laws.
Your “It’s because of societies moral decay” argument is null and void you redneck yokel. Guns kill people.
The fundamental problem was the ready availability of high-powered
weapons, which enabled people to convert their murderous impulses into
mass killing. Certainly, shortcomings in treating mental illness and the
harmful influence of violent video games and movies may have played a
role. But nothing trumps easy access to a gun. It is easier to kill 10
people with a gun than with a knife.
While his lack of sporting prowess and dorky demeanor suggested otherwise, Howard must have had a pretty mean “Don’t fuck with me or I’ll end you!” side to him behind closed doors.
For a time, it seemed that certain states might refuse to enact the ban.
But I made clear that my government was willing to hold a nationwide
referendum to alter the Australian Constitution and give the federal
government constitutional power over guns. Such a referendum would have
been expensive and divisive, but it would have passed. And all state
governments knew this.
This was the Howard Government’s greatest achievement and will benefit Australians for generations to come.
In the end, we won the battle to change gun laws because there was
majority support across Australia for banning certain weapons. And
today, there is a wide consensus that our 1996 reforms not only reduced
the gun-related homicide rate, but also the suicide rate. The Australian
Institute of Criminology found that gun-related murders and suicides
fell sharply after 1996. The American Journal of Law and Economics found
that our gun buyback scheme cut firearm suicides by 74 percent. In the
18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered 13 gun massacres —
each with more than four victims — causing a total of 102 deaths. There
has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996.
You can read Howard’s article in its entirety here.
Thankfully Howard was more adept to bowling legislation reform through the parliament.