About this record
This letter from a member of the public offers encouragement to Prime Minister John Howard in his attempts to strengthen firearm laws following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. Since the Howard Government’s gun reforms, there has been a significant reduction in gun-related deaths in Australia.
The Port Arthur massacre occurred on 28 April 1996 when a 25-year old man murdered 35 people and wounded more than 18 others in the town of Port Arthur in Tasmania.
At the time of the Port Arthur massacre, firearm laws were more relaxed and varied considerably between states. The perpetrator of the Port Arthur massacre owned three firearms, including one he purchased from a newspaper advertisement, despite never holding a gun licence.
Six weeks prior to the Port Arthur massacre, John Howard became Prime Minister in a landslide victory for the Coalition. A year earlier Howard had expressed his disapproval of gun culture in the United States and his desire to reduce the number of firearms in Australia. Following the Port Arthur massacre, Howard pursued ambitious policies to reform gun laws nationwide. This was a particularly difficult endeavour, given that the responsibility for gun laws sits primarily with the states.
The Howard Government’s proposed firearm legislation received considerable public attention. While most Australians supported tighter gun laws, many farmers and recreational shooters came out in force to oppose the changes. Howard also had to persuade state governments to agree on reforms. Howard held a series of public meetings—including one where he famously wore a bullet-proof vest—to explain the proposals to the public and he worked closely with state and territory governments.
Four months after the Port Arthur massacre, the Commonwealth and the states finalised a National Firearms Agreement. The agreement provided for a ban on certain types of firearms; nationwide registration; licencing requirements; a 28-day cooling-off period following the purchase of a gun; and restrictions on who could sell firearms. In addition to the agreement, the Australian Government initiated a gun buyback scheme and amnesty that paid approximately $304 million to gun owners in exchange for their firearms.
Since 1996 the number of gun-related deaths (including suicides) in Australia has significantly decreased.