John Howard writing in the Fairfax press about one of his proudest moments.
EARLY in 2008 Janette and I were guests of the former president, George H. W. Bush or ”41”, as he is affectionately known, at his Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. I spoke to a warm and friendly audience of more than 300 who enthusiastically reacted until, in answer to a request to nominate the proudest actions of the Australian government I had led for almost 12 years, I included the national gun control laws enacted after the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996.
Having applauded my references to the liberation of East Timor, leaving Australia debt free, presiding over a large reduction in unemployment and standing beside the US in the global fight against terrorism, there was an audible gasp of amazement at my expressing pride in what Australia had done to limit the use of guns.
I wonder if he mentioned that after banning guns he went on to become Australia’s highest taxing and spending prime minister? He should have told them he introduced a national sales tax too. Those two pieces of information would ensure that his American audience never contemplate the kinds of gun control Howard imposed on Australia.
I am being a tad unfair – John Howard is only the highest taxing prime minister because the policies pursued by his successors have left the tax base so weakened by debt and deficit that it cannot generate the kinds of revenue that the government would like to spend. As it turns out the Australian GST was carefully drafted to avoid the kinds of problems consumption and sales taxes have experienced in other parts of the world. Yet our American friends know that a politician who disarms the public is up to no good.
John Howard knows that too.
The Second Amendment, crafted in the immediate post-revolutionary years, is more than 200 years old and was designed to protect the right of local communities to raise and maintain militia for use against external threats (including the newly formed national government!).
The American constitution is a revolutionary document – Americans have the right to wage war against the state and for that purpose need guns. Australia is a constitutional monarchy and we have no such right. Whether or not we should have that right is another issue.
I want to point to what Howard says next.
It bears no relationship at all to the circumstances of everyday life in America today. Yet there is a near religious fervour about protecting the right of Americans to have their guns – and plenty of them.
This is an extraordinary blind spot in a (former) politician who has (had?) a profound understanding of the broad mass of people and their views. Howard describes it as a ‘cultural divide’ on an attitude toward guns. To be fair almost every op-ed I’ve read over the past few days does the same thing.
It has not occurred to any Australian commentator – even Howard – that the kinds of gun control they advocate is a violation of the US constitution and the Americans won’t have a bar of it. The US is a country where people take their constitutional rights seriously – even politicians. By contrast Australian politicians, even Howard, view our constitution as some sort of impediment, an inconvenience to be navigated, and not a constraint on government behaviour. Now I’m not suggesting that US politicians don’t stretch their constitution to breaking point, as do ours, but I don’t think that an American politician can get away with expressing to the same contempt for their constitution as ours do.