JUST hours after John Howard heard that a gunman was on the loose in remote Tasmania he had a phone call with then-premier Tony Rundle about gun law reform.
Mr Howard had become prime minister six weeks before the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.
Thursday marks 20 years since the tragic events that took 35 lives, and Mr Howard will return to Tasmania to attend a service at the site.
“It’s an occasion most importantly of all to remember the horrendous losses of life and the families that were torn apart and left grief stricken,” Mr Howard said.
Mr Howard flew to Tasmania and visited Port Arthur two days after the shootings, which he described as “gloomy, sombre and sad”.
“It was a very traumatic event for our country.”
He said one visit to Tasmania would dissolve into the reason for the next visit.
“The whole nation was in a state of stunned shock,” he said.
He recalls being at Kirribilli House in Sydney when he found out about the shootings.
“Later in the day I was rung by the premier of Tasmania Tony Rundle and we talked about what had happened, and he asked if I’d come down to Port Arthur the following Tuesday,” he said.
“I remember thinking very strongly that day we had to do something about it.”
Mr Howard said he’s pleased the action his government took has been beneficial.
“Nobody can guarantee there won’t be gun massacres in the future but all the evidence suggests that after 20 years of observing events Australia has been made safer as a result of the laws that were introduced,” he said.
Australia has placed a temporary ban on the Adler shotgun, but Mr Howard said it should be permanently banned.
“I’d take a tough line in relation to the Adler – I don’t want to see our existing laws loosened in any way.”
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