February 17, 2013

John Howard, the conservative former prime minister of Australia, says that pro-gun advocates in the United States are wrong to oppose an assault weapons ban like the one he pushed for after a 1996 mass shooting because public safety is not a "liberal/conservative issue."

On Sunday, Howard told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that he felt "horror and shock" after a gunman killed 35 people in Tasmania on April 28, 1996.

"I thought to myself -- and many of the people around me -- that we cannot leave a stone unturned in trying to prevent it happening again," he explained. "And that's why I resolved -- and I had only just been elected prime minister -- to use the authority of my new position to bring about change."

"Can I say on the philosophy of it, this is not a left/right -- to use the American terminology -- a liberal/conservative issue," he added. "It's really a public safety, common-sense issue because that is the attitude that most Australians took. And I'm very much on the conservative side of politics, but I just saw this as one of those things that demanded the use of the authority of my office to try and change."

Zakaria pointed out that there had been 13 mass shootings in Australia in the years leading up to the gun control measures, but none had occurred in the decade since.

"Did it change something about the politics?" the CNN host wondered. "Did you find that the people who were on the other side have come around?"

"I think probably some of them have," Howard said, but observed that there would always be people that claimed gun laws "interfered" with freedom.

"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," he asserted.

When it came pro-gun advocates' claim that violent video games and the entertainment culture deserved a large portion of the blame for mass shootings, Howard said that he just couldn't buy in to that argument.

"That is not a 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 will use that weapon," the former prime minister insisted.

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