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

At least 19 children and two adults have been killed in a mass shooting at a Texas elementary school. The suspect, an 18-year-old local man who has also died, opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde in a crime the governor has described as "incomprehensible".

Today, we share Rebecca Sparrow’s piece, which, after 27 mass shootings in schools in the US alone this year, has never been more relevant.

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

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 over 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 former Prime Minister John 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.

Feature Image: YouTube / ABC's 7:30