Howard says don't wind back gun control

Howard says don't wind back gun control - 8th September 2015

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Former Prime Minister John Howard says he strongly opposes any winding back of the gun control legislation his government introduced after the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre.

Speaking at an event hosted by Gun Control Australia, Mr Howard detailed his initial reaction to the massacre that resulted in the death of 35 people.

'Like everybody else, I was just stunned,' Mr Howard told a gathering at Kirribilli House on Tuesday hosted by Gun Control Australia, speaking of the events of April 28, 1996.

Mr Howard says he felt morally obliged to use the majority held by his government to introduce the laws in the wake of the deaths.

'I pretty quickly felt I had to do something, I had just been elected with this huge majority,' he said.

The former coalition prime minister says the fierce resistance in rural areas was borne mainly by his National Party colleagues.

'I have to say it was very hard politically for some of my National Party colleagues,' he said, crediting Tim Fisher, John Anderson and then National Queensland Premier Rob Borbidge for their political courage.

Mr Howard also linked the backlash to the emergence of One Nation, saying it fed the party's rise.

Reflecting on his address to a group of concerned gun owners in Sale, Victoria in 1996, Mr Howard says he now regrets his decision to wear a bulletproof vest but was advised at the time to do so.

However Mr Howard says there was broad support for tighter controls among other sections of the public and he was prepared to go to a referendum if needed.

'Gun control was very popular in the cities and it was especially popular amongst women,' he said.

He dismissed recent comments made by Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm, who advocates a more American-style approach to guns.

'The American way is the wrong way,' he said.

Senator Leyonhjelm traded his vote on a border security amendment to ensure a federal ban on the Turkish-made Adler A110 shotgun, capable of firing eight rounds in eight seconds.

Mr Howard was also critical of the lifting of controls such as a 28-day cooling off period after purchasing guns and limits on the number of guns a person can own.

'Any winding back of the laws concerns me,' he said.

But Mr Howard remains confident there is firm public support for strong gun controls.

'If the community thought the gun laws were being seriously weakened their would be quite a kick back,' he said.

The gun buy-back introduced by Mr Howard purchased and destroyed more than 631,000 firearms.

But controls over firearms have since been slowly wound back.

The number of firearms held by civilians in Australia has reached more than three million; four states have eliminated the 28-day cooling off period when applying for a second weapon; and one licence-holder in NSW has been allowed to acquire 329 guns and another in Victoria has been granted permission to have 131 firearms.

Port Arthur survivor Carol Loughton was in Sydney to join calls for more action to ensure there is not another such tragedy.

She was in the Broad Arrow Cafe with her daughter Sarah when Bryant started shooting.

'She (Sarah) was shot in the back of the head and I threw myself over her, trying to save her,' Ms Loughton said.

Carol was shot in the back.

Ms Loughton said there are still 18 people living with extremely severe wounds.

'I'm seeing a surgeon again later this month. I've had more than 30 operations,' she said.

'The doctors can't amputate my back, so it turns to jelly. It's like gangrene.'

'They took part of my left hip-bone out. They moulded it into the shape of a scapula.'

A few years later, 'that also melted'.

'I now have half a leg ... If it flares up again, I will lose the fibula out of my other leg.

'I was 40 when this happened, and it doesn't go away.

'It will go on for the rest of our lives.'