Dana Pierangeli: New Zealand could teach us a thing or two

Monday, April 1, 2019 - 1:53pm

New Zealand’s largest mass shooting took place at two mosques, the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Center, in Christchurch, killing 50 people and injuring another 50 on the Muslim holy day, Friday, March 15. Before the shooting took place, the suspect released a document detailing far-right, nationalistic views targeting Muslims and immigrants.

After this gruesome event, Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, immediately sprang into action. She banned all military-style semi-automatic guns and assault rifles and has created a government buyback system to get rid of those already in circulation, which will cost the government between $100 and $200 million in New Zealand dollars. Though the total number of banned guns is unknown, of the 1.5 million guns in circulation, more than 13,500 are now banned. Owners are expected to turn those guns in and will be reimbursed. If they do not comply, they could receive up to three years in prison. And this is just the first step.

Most citizens are in complete agreement about the necessity for this action, including gun owners. John Overand told NPR the new gun laws are a “good idea.” He went on: “I’m a farmer and I’ve got guns, but just for pests and things like that. But semi-automatics aren’t what you use for shooting pests, they’re for killing people.”

Even those in the gun industry are taking action. Some gun sellers took all weapons off the shelf the day of attack and stopped selling high capacity magazines. A manager of a rifle range shut down his gun club to show respect for the victims.

People all around the world are praising New Zealand’s quick and effective action. Rebecca Peters, an activist who lead gun law reforms in Australia in the 1990s, said: “It’s been the fastest response ever by a government after a tragedy.” U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted: “This is what leadership looks like,” reminding others that Sandy Hook took place six years ago and the United States still does not have universal background checks. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., challenged the U.S. to follow in New Zealand’s footsteps, saying, “This is what real action to stop gun violence looks like.”

And yet, little change has been enacted here in the United States, where gun violence has been a much more widespread issue. The U.S. has experienced 162 mass shootings since 1966, according to The Washington Post. They’ve taken place everywhere from schools to movie theaters, killing everyone from children to the elderly. Afterward, the nation is outraged for a couple months, sometimes a little longer. We cry for change but are ignored. Soon the cries begin to die out due to inaction. Then the cycle is repeated over and over again.

Thankfully, we’ve recently been granted a ban on bump stocks, and the Supreme Court seems set on keeping that ban in place, rejecting the second bid to end the ban in three days. This action is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. We don’t have national bans on assault weapons, only restrictions in a few states. We don’t have universal background checks. We don’t have enough forms of protection against what is supposed to protect us.

New Zealand is not burdened by the Second Amendment like the United States. In New Zealand, owning a gun is considered “a privilege and not a right,” as Stuart Nash, New Zealand police minister, said. They also don’t have to deal with a powerful National Rifle Association pushing back on any safety initiatives. Dana Loesch, a spokeswoman for the NRA, wrote on Twitter, “The US isn’t NZ. While they do not have an inalienable right to bear arms and to self-defense, we do.” While this is a true statement, it does not give us the excuse to be irresponsible with our rights. Maybe it’s not possible to take as dramatic forms of action as New Zealand did, or to pass it as fast, but that doesn’t give the U.S. an excuse to do nothing.

When a national tragedy occurs, a government is supposed to take action. A government is supposed to take care of its citizens, not allow them to be slaughtered time and time again while it stands idly by. A government is supposed to act. That is exactly what New Zealand did and why they are being praised for their actions by others who recognize its importance. They have responded to tragedy with quick and effective action – and we should do the same.

How many more? How many more shootings will it take for the U.S. to wake up and take action? One hundred and sixty-three? Two hundred? Because we know what New Zealand’s answer is. Zero.

Dana Pierangeli can be reached at dmpier@umich.edu.