Addressing Gun Violence in the Wake of the Christchurch Shootings Implications for New Zealand and the United States
On March 15, in Christchurch, New Zealand, a gunman killed fifty people in two mosque attacks. After the shootings it was revealed that the perpetrator bought his weapons in accordance with New Zealand law. It was clear that New Zealand’s gun policies were not enough, leading Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to announce changes just days after the shootings. In response, many people celebrated Ardern and encouraged the United States to follow New Zealand’s lead.
Currently, New Zealand’s gun laws require a background check and a minimum age of only 16, or 18 to purchase semi-automatic weapons. The process for earning a firearms license includes a background check, a gun safety lecture, and a thirty-question test. In addition, “Two referees, including one spouse or parent, must be able to attest to an applicant's suitability to carry a gun in an interview with police. An arms officer from New Zealand Police will also pay a visit to their home to inspect security of the guns.” Despite these requirements, a report in 2017 showed that “43,509 people applied for firearms licences, and 43,321 were granted” during that year. For reference, that means 99.5% of applications were successful. Furthermore, “Among developed nations it stands alone with the United States as the only two countries without universal gun registration,” and a person is allowed to purchase any number of guns after receiving their license.
After the attacks, Prime Minister Ardern took little time to declare that the laws would be changed. All five of the weapons used by the Christchurch attacker were bought legally — two of which were semi-automatic. Prime Minister Ardern announced that access to these military-style weapons will require a police permit, which will be extremely difficult to attain. She continued, “We will also ban all assault rifles. We will ban all high-capacity magazines. We will ban all parts with the ability to convert semi-automatic or any other type of firearm into a military-style semi-automatic weapon.” Further efforts include implementing a buyback program in which the acquired weapons will be destroyed. Although some people may view the changes as drastic, Prime Minister Ardern claimed that the cabinet is “absolutely unified.”
In light of these announcements, the conversation stretched from New Zealand to across the globe. Although there was some backlash, the overwhelming majority praised Prime Minister Ardern. New Zealand journalist Eric Young commented, “@jacindaardern has done an extraordinary job representing our nation, our pain and our resolve.” New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also praised Arden’s actions, “Christchurch happened, and within days New Zealand acted to get weapons of war out of the consumer market. This is what leadership looks like.” On the other hand, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch argued that New Zealand is “an entirely different country that doesn’t have the right to bear arms as a cornerstone of its constitution, in addition to numerous state laws.” While the second amendment gives people living in the United States the right to bear arms, there is debate over whether that includes military-style weapons.
In the United States, “Federal law does not require background checks for private sales. It would not require background checks for transfers between family members or for temporary use of a gun.” In February 2019, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would require background checks on all firearm sales. The bill is unlikely to reach the Senate floor, but if it if it is passed President Donald Trump said that he would veto it. In addition, a federal ban on bump stocks went into effect in March of 2019. Bump stocks allow semi-automatic weapons to function as a fully-automatic weapon and they have been used in a number of attacks, such as the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. Although the bump stock ban is progress, it should be noted that it is one of the only effective pieces of federal legislation regarding gun control that was passed in the last several years.
Meanwhile, gun deaths in the United States have reached a record high. Vox reported that more people died from gun violence than car crashes in 2017. However, those in favor of gun control have been faced with extreme pushback. For example, Florida Senator Marco Rubio claimed that many “view banning guns as an infringement on the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens that ultimately will not prevent these tragedies.” The National Rifle Association (NRA) is also a big contributing factor as to why the United States does not have satisfactory gun control. According to Cameron Kasky, a March For Our Lives co-founder, “the second we want to put common-sense resolutions on these assault weapons, the NRA will say they are trying to steal every single one of your guns, and people believe them.” New Zealand also has a National Rifle Association, but they are considering a name change to avoid association with the United States organization.
New Zealand’s current situation shows that compromises can be made in order to keep people safe. As Prime Minister Ardern stated, their country’s reforms are not being made to infringe on anyone’s freedoms. Instead, they “are directed at making sure this never happens again.” She also emphasized her belief that most gun owners will agree that change is necessary. In other countries, gun control has proven to save lives. For instance, after a mass shooting in Australia, a ban on semi-automatic weapons was implemented. Since 1996, they have had no mass gun deaths and “Researchers concluded gun control laws theoretically prevented 16 mass shootings in Australia.” In addition, the United Kingdom’s buyback program and strict gun control laws may explain why it has one of the lowest levels of gun deaths among industrialized nations. Statistics show that gun control laws generally lower the gun-related death toll.
In 2016, deaths related to gun violence were at “a rate of 1.87 per million people” in New Zealand as opposed to “106 deaths per million” in the United States. While New Zealand’s leadership announced significant changes only six days after Christchurch, the United States has yet to properly respond to Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando, and the alarming amounts of daily gun-related deaths. It is estimated that each day in the United States, 318 people are shot and 96 of those people die. Clearly, something needs to change in order to end this epidemic.