A Lesson to be Learned by the United States: New Zealand Response to Mass Shooting

Brianna McNiven, Junior Editor

26 March 2019

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With the immense trust placed in political leaders, there comes a responsibility on their behalf to act in accordance with interests of the public and to react in appropriate ways in instances of horror. On March 15th, 2019, New Zealand witnessed the utmost abhorrent act when those of Islamic faith were targeted in what has been referred to as an act of terrorism, at mosques in the city of Christchurch. To discuss a topic of such a horrific nature often leaves individuals at a loss for words, while also bringing about emotions of anger, fear, and sadness. These emotions are essential to creating legislative change that will lead to stricter policies regarding weapons used to inflict violence of this sort, and this is what has inspiringly transpired in response to the attacks in New Zealand. A new precedent has been set by the actions of New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern and her government, who have moved swiftly to implement stricter laws, while also ensuring the necessary measures are taken to assist those hurt by this tragedy in mourning.

Noting some critical background information, the attack on two mosques resulted in the death of 50 individuals, and upwards of 50 were injured. As disclosed by authorities, the perpetrator used multiple guns, including two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns that were legally owned as he had obtained a gun license in November 2017. [1]The mass shooting took many by surprise, as the last incident of this nature took place thirty years ago when thirteen lives were lost, which resulted in amendments to the 1983 gun laws. With recognition to the victims of the violence, they included individuals from multiple countries, including Pakistan, Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria, and India, many of which have resided in New Zealand for multiple years.

 The national and international response prompted rapid action by the New Zealand Government, with Prime Minister Ardern announcing amendments to the gun laws in the country. Ardern made multiple changes to the laws, which prior to this attack were criticized as being lenient for a western state. The laws mandated that registration for gun owners was not required; however, a license was indeed legally necessary to purchase guns and ammunition. [3]The licensing process included a criminal background check, as well as a history of violence, drug, and alcohol use, in addition to other factors as well. The license was valid for ten years, although was subject to being revoked if officers of the law had reason to believe the individual in possession of the gun was a danger to themselves or others in society. It is important to note that this general license is limited to certain weapons, and the purchasing of specific firearms required ‘endorsements’ from the police force, as well as additional permits with more extensive application processes.

The changes made to the laws are set to be in effect by April 11th, 2019 at the first parliamentary sitting, less than a month after the attack. The changes will include a ban on military style semi-automatic weapons (MSSAs), as well as assault rifles, as declared by the New Zealand Prime Minister. Additionally, the related resources that are generally used to convert guns into MSSAs, as well as high capacity magazines will be banned. [5]Furthermore, the government has announced the implementation of an amnesty, which allows for owners of the weapons that will be included in the new ban to hand them in and have access to a ‘buy-back scheme’. Prime Minister Ardern declared that this plan could cost up to NZ$200 million, which is equivalent to approximately $138 million U.S dollars, however as Ardern said, “that is the price we must pay to ensure the safety of our communities.” [6]Lastly, failure to comply with the newly implemented laws subjects’ violators to a NZ$4,000 fine, and three years in jail.

In the wake of this attack, discussions regarding the controversial U.S gun laws arose across the western world. With the regretful history of multiple mass shootings within a very short time period, one would expect action from the US government that exceeds what has been changed thus far. In regard to the lack of change made in federal gun laws in the US, the recent history of deadly mass shootings must be recalled. The 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut was one of the most horrific examples of mass shootings in the U.S. However, the legislative response was inadequate, and the numerous proposed bills by the Senate failed to pass. The bills included background checks a legal requirement for private sales at gun shows and online purchases, in an effort to limit sales between family and friends, as well as proposed a ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines. [7]Note, that all of these propositions are being banned in New Zealand in response to the attack. An additional example is the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Florida in 2016, where the Senate rejected the ‘no-fly, no buy’ legislation. Lastly, and most recently, the Las Vegas mass shooting at a music festival in 2017, which is known as the deadliest mass shooting in US history. The legislative response to this attack was more successful than the previous, with the proposed ban on bump stocks, however, this legislation remains pending.

The information provided here clearly demonstrates the failure on behalf of the U.S Government to adequately respond to the mass shootings that occur far too often, while the rapid and effective response by the New Zealand Government sets a necessary precedent that the U.S ought to follow. It is disheartening to witness the lack of action by the U.S Government, as in the face of such tragedy in New Zealand, to observe the grace and action of the Prime Minister makes one hopeful that it puts things into perspective for American political leaders. The minimal changes to gun laws on both federal and state levels within the U.S are unacceptable. The government is responsible for the security of its citizens and therefore should begin with protecting Americans from the very prevalent threat that they pose to themselves, guns.