"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with former Australian Prime Minister John Howard about his country’s experience with gun control. To see this or other interviews, download the show at iTunes
What I'm struck by in the debate in the United States is that it takes on a left-right coloration, whereas in the rest of the world, generally speaking, it's conservatives who are in favor of being tough on guns, if you know what I mean. They tend to be the kind of policies that law enforcement officials usually support. You’re a very staunch conservative. You were a 100 percent supporter of George Bush during the Iraq War. You’ve always been a tough guy. Do you find it odd to find yourself on the “left side” of the debate?
This is not a conservative-liberal issues or a left-right issue. We’ve always seen it as being a question of public safety. And, on this issue, our experience was that we did have gains in public safety. We did have great gains in reduction of mass murder through the ban that we produced. Now, I know the history of gun ownership in the United States. I respect it. America has a Bill of Rights, Australia does not. The courts in Australia do not have the same capacity to decide these issues as they do in the United States.
So I acknowledge all of the differences. And, clearly, it is a debate that has to go on in the United States, without people from the outside giving any lectures. And I'm not doing that. I’m simply explaining what we did, what our feelings and emotions were. And there was enormous public support, especially in urban areas, for what we did 17 years ago. There was a lot of resistance inside sections of my own political base. But with the experience of 17 years, even the most cynical skeptical person would acknowledge that we have made a big difference with that prohibition.
Well, if we look at the 18 years leading up to 1996, there were 13 gun massacres in Australia. Since the law has been passed, there has not been a single one. Gun homicide, as we say, is down somewhere between 59 and 80 percent. Did it change something about the politics? Did you find that the people who were on the other side have come around?
I think probably some of them have. But there will always be a group of people who, and quite understandably, argue, look, I enjoy shooting. I enjoy hunting. I'm very careful. I'm very scrupulous about keeping my weapons away from other people. I didn’t break the law. I didn’t murder anybody. And, therefore, why should you interfere with my freedom to be a happy hunter or a shooter? Now, I understand and respect that point of view. But the sad fact is that it’s the ready availability of guns that results in mass murder.
When you confronted this issue, did you hear one of the things that we hear, which is, you know, it's really popular culture that’s to blame. It’s all the violence on television and movies and such? I ask this, of course, because Australians consume much of the same popular culture as we do in the United States, yet you kill very many fewer people.
Well, I did hear those arguments and they are valid. I think the violence that young children are subjected to, often on through videos and television, is excessive. I accept that. And you can always do better with mental health. But that is not as dominant an issue, in my mind, as the enduring problem that when people snap and there’s a weapon that can kill a lot of people very rapidly available, in many cases, the person who snaps will use that weapon. And you’ve got to reduce the possibility of that, in my opinion. That was the view we took in Australia back in 1996.
Now, I'm not pretending that our mental health processes or dealing with it are better than anybody else’s, or I'm not pretending that we don’t have violent videos. We do consume practically the same popular culture as America. And a lot of it comes from America. We speak the same language, sort of. And, so we have a lot of things in common. And in that way, we should try and share each other’s experiences in tackling these problems.