‘Thank you, John Howard. In 1996 you made a tough call and we’re all safer because you did.’

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A 19-year-old gunman opened fire at a Florida high school he was previously expelled from on Wednesday afternoon in the US (Thursday morning in Australia). He killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland before he was arrested. The gunman was identified as Nikolas Cruz, who previously attended the school and was expelled for unspecified “disciplinary reasons”. He surrendered to police without a struggle.

While US President Donald Trump’s pro gun White House wanted to focus on “mental health” instead of gun laws in a press conference, social media has been flooded with people saying the opposite.

Today, we share Rebecca Sparrow’s piece, which, after the 18th mass shooting in the US this year alone, has never been more relevant.

APTOPIX School Shooting Florid
Parents waiting for news after shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. (Image: AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

This morning, I am silently thanking Australia’s former Prime Minister.

Because yesterday the United States experienced the 18th mass shooting this year. It's February. A lone gunman returned to the Florida high school he had been expelled from to shoot and kill as many people as he could. At least 17 people have been confirmed dead, with 14 more injured.

And you know what? All I can think is ‘Thank God for John Howard.’

LISTEN: Amelia Lester explains why US gun laws remain unchanged, despite massacre after massacre. Post continues after. 

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Because whatever you think of Howard, his prime ministership or the Liberal party – we all owe Australia’s 25th Prime Minister a vote of thanks for the courage and foresight he showed nearly 20 years ago.

In April 1996 a lone 28-year-old gunman entered the historic Port Arthur tourist site (a former penal colony) in Tasmania and shot dead 20 innocent people in the first 90 seconds. That gunman (whom I refuse to name) went on to murder a total of 35 people, seriously wounding 18 others. Reports later revealed he was able to purchase his semi-automatic assault weapon from a gun dealer without holding the required gun licence.

Overnight Prime Minister Howard took action. He knew such an atrocity must never happen again in our country.

Watch Prime Minister Howard discuss his decision regarding gun control:

Howard made the brave and – let’s be clear - unpopular move to take on the gun lobby. He introduced a government gun buy back scheme which saw the government buy back (and destruction) of more than 700,000 Australian owned guns. And he essentially forced the states to sign an agreement for nationwide gun law reforms.

“The National Firearms Programme Implementation Act 1996, restricts the private ownership of semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns as well as introducing uniform firearms licensing.”

We have not had a single mass shooting since that very day. We are a safer country because of that call.

Our children can go to school, students can wander around their university campuses, young people can gather at music festivals, our families can go to church or to the mall or the cinema knowing that the chances an armed assailant is going to turn up is all but impossible.

Prime Minister Howard made that possible.

Australia isn’t perfect. We all know that. We have much to do in truly valuing and respecting our indigenous communities. We have incredible work to do in the area of male violence against women and children. We struggle to show the compassion needed towards those in detention. We have a serious issue with alcohol. I could go on.

But by God we got something right and it’s this.

So thank you, Prime Minister Howard.

In 1996 you made a tough call that changed our nation and we’re all safer because you did.

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