16 December 2012

John Howard on America's lax firearms laws

Early in 2008 Janette [Howard] and I were guests of the former president, George H. W. Bush or ''41'', as he is affectionately known, at his Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. I spoke to a warm and friendly audience of more than 300 who enthusiastically reacted until, in answer to a request to nominate the proudest actions of the Australian government I had led for almost 12 years, I included the national gun control laws enacted after the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996.

Having applauded my references to the liberation of East Timor, leaving Australia debt free, presiding over a large reduction in unemployment and standing beside the US in the global fight against terrorism, there was an audible gasp of amazement at my expressing pride in what Australia had done to limit the use of guns.

I had been given a sharp reminder that, despite the many things we have in common with our American friends, there is a huge cultural divide when it comes to the free availability of firearms [...]

The murder rate in the US is roughly four times that in each of Australia, New Zealand, and Britain. Even the most diehard supporter of guns must concede that America's lax firearms laws are a major part of the explanation for such a disparity.

On April 28, 1996, Bryant, using two weapons, killed 35 people in Tasmania. It was, at that time, the largest number of people who had died in a single series of incidents at the hands of one person.

The national gun control laws delivered by the Howard government, following this tragedy received bipartisan support ... Research published in 2010 in the American Journal of Law and Economics found that firearm homicides, in Australia, dropped 59 per cent between 1995 and 2006. There was no offsetting increase in non-firearm-related murders. Researchers at Harvard University in 2011 revealed that in the 18 years prior to the 1996 Australian laws, there were 13 gun massacres (four or more fatalities) in Australia, resulting in 102 deaths. There have been none in that category since the Port Arthur laws.

- John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia 1996-2007, 'Brothers in arms, yes, but the US needs to get rid of its guns', The Age (Melbourne), 1 August 2012

[Howard was writing in response to another American gun massacre, in Aurora. The study Howard referred to found that Australia's gun buyback policy 'led to a drop in the firearm suicide rates of almost 80%, with no significant effect on non-firearm death rates']
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