opinion

We owe the 35 Port Arthur victims so much.

There’s a popular meme that gets posted on social media whenever a tragedy unfolds.

You know the one. It’s by the late American minister and TV host Fred Rogers who said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

It’s a good quote. And it’s true. Grief and pride so often – if we’re lucky – walk hand in hand. Next to the gut-churning horror we felt on September 11 was the inspiration and admiration the world felt upon hearing the thousands of stories of compassion, bravery and love that occurred in New York City.

The utter devastation caused by the Queensland floods in 2011 was tempered in part by the extraordinary tales of generosity and selflessness and courage.

The same could be said for Cyclone Katrina, the Black Saturday bushfires, the Boxing Day Tsunami. I could go.

Grief and pride.

And so it is that on the anniversary of one of Australia’s darkest days – the 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur tourist site massacre when 35 innocent men, women and little children were murdered by a lone gunman — I am sitting here feeling both grief and pride.

35 innocent men, women and little children were murdered by a lone gunman. (Image via Wiki Commons)
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Grief at the loss of innocent lives and contemplating the sheer terror they must have felt in those hours.

But also pride.

Not just because of the stories of courage, bravery and kindness that unfolded on a day that was so inexplicably evil. But because it was this event – this horrific mass shooting where a 28 year old man was able to purchase a semi-automatic assault weapon from a gun dealer without holding the required gun licence -- that saw Australia step up to the plate and declare, ‘This can NEVER happen again.”

And it hasn’t.

They swore it would never happen again. And it hasn't. (Image via Getty: Mark Kolbe)

Last December, following the 381st mass shooting of 2015 in the United States, I wrote a post thanking Prime Minister John Howard for having the courage to change our gun laws. And I’ll repeat now what I said back then …

“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 back in April 1996.

“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.

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

Howard discusses the gun recall with CBS news (post continues after video):

Video via CBS

“Our children can go to school, students can wander around their university campuses, 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.

Sarah Loughton [left], Tony Kistan [top right], Alannah and Madeline Mikac [bottom right]. Just four of the 35 people who lost their lives. (Images via ABC/Daily Telegraph/Channel 9)

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

So for the second time this week our nation must bow its head and give thanks to the 35 people who lost their lives at Port Arthur. Thirty-five Australians whose deaths would be the catalyst to change Australia for the better. We owe those 35 people so very much.

And today, I once again say ‘Thank you” to Prime Minister Howard and the grieving families from the Port Arthur tragedy who demanded that our gun laws be changed. We are all here today, safer, because you did.

You will not be forgotten.

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