February 19th, 2013
09:37 AM ET

Howard: Gun control not a left-right issue

"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.

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Topics: Australia • Gun Control • United States

soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Muin

    Americans who don't like 2nd amendment can try citizenship of other developed countries which has tougher gun control. That's one option.

    February 19, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Reply
    • Ray

      The former Prime minister is correct to say " America has a Bill of Rights, Australia does not." , so his opinion means little when talking about American rights.

      February 21, 2013 at 9:50 pm | Reply
  2. Joseph McCarthy

    Gun control shouldn't be an issue here. If one takes all the guns away from the common people, then only criminals will have guns. It's as simple as that!

    February 19, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Reply
    • Aargh!

      Not as simple as your argument, though.

      February 21, 2013 at 12:05 am | Reply
  3. winfreyr

    No Need to Cede Our Imaginations Too


    February 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Reply
  4. moar gunz!!!

    wii ned moar gunz 2 pertek uz frum pepl wit moar gunz dan wii hav. wii don lyk u demokrates cuz u unly wunt 2 tayk wey r gunz n jezuz 2. wii don lyk u demokrates 2 raz taxiz neder. wii don ned taxiz fer skools neder. wii kin bii hom skoold lyk mi dady en mumy (hiz siztr). iv u demokrates raz mi taxiz i wunt bii abl 2 bi nu weelz fer mi hows. ger republikins!!!!!!!!!

    February 19, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Reply
    • konrado

      What did you say?

      February 20, 2013 at 7:25 am | Reply
      • moar gunz!!!

        u r 2 stupud 2 reed gud inglish frum uz republikinz don sowt. wii r hom skoold. u r skoold bi da gubmunt. ger republikinz!!!!

        February 20, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • GeneralNikko

      Typical of the left, when you have no valid argument, employ Alinsky rule # 5. Beware of # 7, it is your own downfall.You are a sheep. We eat sheep for lunch.

      February 20, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Reply
      • Hahahahahahaha

        Is that after you've had your way with them???? Hahahhaahahahahah

        February 20, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
      • usvet

        actually, i am an Ak-47 owning liberal. please refrain from labeling all of us as the same. it doen't help solve the problem. especially since i'm on your side as far as gun control goes...

        February 23, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • Mr Jentz


      February 23, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  5. mahmoud el-darwish


    February 19, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  6. rightospeak

    I wrote nice comments and it must have not agreed with Howard's point of view , so he trashed them. Let it be , Howard, I know you guys censor almost everything and work for the oligarchs. It is a shame that our democracy did not have a chance.

    February 19, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Reply
    • Phil Green

      John Howard is the ex Australian Prime Minister. He was situated in Sydney Australia when interviewed. So do you think he trashed your comments from Australia or did he jump on a plane to visit CNN offices to trash your comments? In my opinion you should put some more thought into developing your conspiracy theories before you go public.
      The squirrels seem very nutty in your area.

      February 20, 2013 at 6:05 am | Reply
  7. StillSlitherin

    "But the sad fact is that it’s the ready availability of guns that results in mass murder."
    That's not a fact at all, that's an unsubstantiated opinion. He's still a politician, looking to take credit for something that deserves none. There has been significant progress in mental health diagnosis and treatment, which began prior to the gun buyback, and the number of guns in Australia has actually increased since the buyback. There is no correlation and nothing to substantiate his statement quoted above. Fact.

    February 20, 2013 at 3:40 am | Reply
    • Tom

      The ready availability of guns resulted in mass murder in the case of Martin Bryant at Port Arthur in 1996. He didn't say it is the only causative factor or that it's a causative factor in every mass murder.
      It's not the number of guns that's relevant but the ready availability. Guns in Australia are not readily available, possession is strictly controlled. That's the point.

      February 20, 2013 at 4:56 am | Reply
      • jrh0

        And yet the mass killings with the five next highest casualty counts were committed with items other than guns. From arson, to bombimbg, to running people down with a garbage truck, people without guns in Australia still found readily available ways to murder.

        February 20, 2013 at 9:46 am |
      • jrh0

        The point the gun crowd makes is that the inavailability of guns would not in any way have prevented that massacre either. A person who has decided to go kill a bunch of people will come up with a way to do it.

        February 20, 2013 at 9:48 am |
      • Tom

        JRHO : who says? Is that what Martin Bryant said? Is that what any other mass murderer said?
        Martin Bryant said he had the guns because he had the money and they were easy to get. It's in the police interview. John Howard said that ready availability to guns results in masss murders. I think he's right. He deserves credit for introducing laws which have saved lives. The gun controls are broadly popular in Australia. The homicide rates are low, the government hasn't gone tyrannical, the criminals haven't taken over and people live happily without guns.

        February 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
      • Josh

        Australia's Human development index is second in the world and their quality of life index is 6th in the world, both better than US. So looks like they are coping ok with gun controls.

        February 21, 2013 at 1:30 am |
  8. j. von hettlingen

    Yes, Australia does have tough gun laws ban most people from owning handguns. In 2000 foreign security personnel accompanying athletes to the Sydney Olympics were not allowed to carry firearms. Teams from Israel and the US were not exempt from the ban. Teams from Turkey, Ja pan, China, Iran and Iraq were reported to have made requests to bring their own armed security, but they were turned down.

    February 20, 2013 at 7:31 am | Reply
  9. Hate Wins

    How about we do away with:
    The Right to Freedom of Speech
    The Right to Vote
    The Right to Freedom of the Press. “This Blog Site”
    The Right to Travel any where in the U.S.A. with out proper papers
    The right to Marry the Person of YOUR Choice
    The Right to Have AS MANY Children that you want "IE China"
    The Right to OWN a HOME
    The Right to Work and Receive Pay for Your Labors
    The Right to Own a Baseball Bat
    The Right to Own a Knife
    The Right to LIVE IN PEACE and raise you family.
    Nazi Germany restricted most of these rights and made people carry papers just to go see grandma.
    The USSR did the same thing until their fall in the 80s. China, North Korea, Iran just to name a few restricts their people today.
    Gun owner ship is a right not a privilege.
    Hate this right but to take it away is just as wrong as taking away those listed above.

    February 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Reply
    • Anton

      People put a lot of emphasis on the term "Rights". There was a time when it was a man's Right to kill his daughter. Members of the nobility had the Right to do with their underlings as they wished. Thankfully, rights change over time.
      People did NOT have the Right to marry the person of their choice and still do not in most states of the U.S. But that too, will change. I don't see any reason why gun ownership can't slowly be removed as a right.

      February 21, 2013 at 12:14 am | Reply
      • circles

        hes refering to the natural rights outlined at the end of the enlightenment.

        February 21, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
    • meekroar

      No one is taking your guns away – they are just looking to make it more difficult for the wrong people to get them. Second hand gun sales account for 80% of guns that wind up becoming illegal (ie not register). I am an American, been living in Aus for 13 years now. People are completely happy without guns here. There is crime like anywhere else, it usually non violent stuff. When there is a gun fight or shooting it usually involves drug folks shooting drug folks. In all the time I've been here, I can't recall single time someone was shot in they're house from a robbery. It just doesn't happen.

      February 24, 2013 at 1:40 am | Reply
  10. Pat

    I am disappointed at most of the comments so far. It appears that most carry the NRA point of view – which is WRONG.
    Former Prime Minister John Howard should get nothing but stand applause! What he did for Australia shouldbe done in the USA.
    Fareed Zakara, I am a big fan. Your questions to wonderfully informed quest are the BEST!

    February 20, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Reply
    • Phil Bee Boy

      Hi Pat, yes I agree the NRA is wrong. I think that they should be declared a terrorist organisation and the patriot act used.
      The fact that the organisation regularly repeats the mantra, you can have my gun when you can take it from my dead cold hands – is evidence of intimidation and threats of violence being used to influence politics.

      February 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Reply
      • bobs

        But they are all old people, so you just wait till they cark it and then take it before his grandsons do.

        February 21, 2013 at 8:45 am |
      • circles

        They are saying its a right they would die for not something they would go around and kill a bunch of innocent people for. Would you die to see an individual deprived of his guns?

        February 21, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
      • Phil Bee Boy

        The words "' I'll give you my gun when you take it from my cold dead hands' are a threat of violence. That's why Charlton Heston referred pto them as 'fighting words'. A legal definition of terrorism "the unlawful use of violence or threat of violence to instill fear and coerce governments or societies motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs and committed in the pursuit of goals that are usually political."

        February 22, 2013 at 4:03 am |
  11. Pat

    The video of the interview of former Prime Minister John Howard should be sent to every member of congress! It is wonderfully informative and persuasive.

    February 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  12. nonsense

    No thank you, next.

    February 21, 2013 at 6:15 am | Reply
  13. Hate Wins

    Ok NRA a Terrorist Org!
    What about the ACLU they to could be Terrorist also given your standard.
    What about the White only groups or Black only groups less brand them Terrorist.
    The Church that is NOT FOR ABORATION is also a Terrorisr Group.

    So what do we outlaw now more freedoms and rights to fit you mold.

    Weather you agree or not the 2nd Admendment is there just like all the others and I for one want them all enforces to the fullest extent of the law.
    This is now Nazi Germany in 1939 for Gods sake.

    February 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Reply
    • Hahahahahahaha

      Better leave the US before the Nazis kill every Red Neck American that can't spell. Hahahahahahahahaha

      February 21, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Reply
    • Billy

      But if the NRA are using terrorist tactics the point is they've gone beyond the fullest extent of the law. If patriot act was used to get into their secrets ..... mmm interesting.

      February 21, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  14. Phil Bee Boy

    Not sure how those other organisations use threats and violence to intimidate or coerce for political gain, but the NRA has done it by use of bumper stickers stating "I'll give you my gun when you take it from my cold dead hands" plus other stuff like use of an enemies list.

    February 21, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  15. Rick McDaniel

    The other question is.........have you ever actually had the threat of a dictatorial takeover of the government?

    We in America.......are under such a threat NOW!

    February 24, 2013 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  16. Lucy

    and yet while you are raving on about having the right to guns, massacres continue to happen and children keep on dying. But that's not important right?
    Do you have any idea how much the rest of the world think how stupid you Americans are?

    March 26, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Reply
  17. Guille

    It seems that some politicians and some emotional citizens believe that guns are the problem because of the amount of deaths caused each year with them. Well, cars kill more people than guns do so why not take away cars? Because cars serve a legitimate purpose and when used correctly it benefits society. This philosophy also applies to guns, whether people want to admit it or not.

    The magazine capacity, make no difference, neither does it make a difference if a gun looks like a military firearm but functions like a civilian firearm. The fact is that anyone who wants to kill one or fifty people can do it even without the "so called" assault weapons or any banned firearm component. Timothy McVeigh killed over 160 innocent people without firing a single shot.

    All of the mass murders that have occurred in recent memory were done in a "Gun Free" zone with exception of only one, the incident in Arizona. Doesn't that tell us something? Does it not make more sense to identify and prevent those who are likely to go bonkers and kill a bunch of people from getting hold of a firearm? If there were armed folks in the places where these horrific massacres were committed, could some lives have been saved? I think many lives could have been saved in every incident. Furthermore, these places were chosen by these killers because they were gun free zones. If there are no gun free zones, there are no places where mass killers can do what they want. They would have to find another way, and probably will.

    April 11, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Reply

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