In the Wake of Tragedy: New Zealand’s Swift Gun Reform

Opinion by: Stephanie H.

Edited by: Kody T.

Visual by: Sandro L. and Ari T.

As a Kiwi, the shock of the mosque shooting in New Zealand hit hard. With the number of mass shootings in the US, I became desensitised towards the ones there. Maybe it’s because I’m not a US citizen, or maybe it’s because it’s New Zealand’s first mass shooting since 1990, but the shock that came with Christchurch’s felt entirely new. That still doesn’t change the frustration towards the US government for taking limited action to prevent mass shootings. However, it’s easy to say that the US should follow NZ’s lead, but NZ isn’t a perfect model for the US.

6 days after the terrorist attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand would ban semiautomatic weapons, assault rifles, and high capacity magazines. The legislation is currently being drafted with cooperation from opposing political parties and is planned to be implemented by April 11. In the immediate wake of the attack, it was hard to feel proud of being a Kiwi. Now, whilst there remains a heavy atmosphere, with the plans for change, I’m able to feel proud of my country once again.

The reform has received large international support. Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted: “This is what real action to stop gun violence looks like”. Australian actress Magda Szubanski also weighed in, saying: “I believe I’ve coined a new term: to ‘Ardern Up’ — meaning to show strength, decency, compassion, and true leadership”. However, as stated by Tracy Watkins, a political editor for Stuff, Ardern will “be criticised by those at the opposite ends of the gun debate as not going far enough by some, and too far by others”. Yet, I think that in comparison to the US and the limited changes implemented there despite numerous mass shootings, the fact that there is any reform at all is impressive.

With the fast move towards change, I don’t think it’s surprising that many US-based media sources, like the NYTimes and the Washington Post, have compared the responses to mass shootings within the two countries. It’s interesting to see the difference between the US and NZ in the wake of such tragedies.

In my opinion, these differences mainly stem from the nations’ constitutions and the culture towards gun use. NZ’s does not include “the right to bear arms” and gun ownership is recognized as a privilege, something the former police minister noted after the attack. In NZ, guns are associated with rural culture. In the US, ownership is associated with self defense. As stated by NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch: “The US isn’t NZ. While they do not have an inalienable right to bear arms and to self-defense, we do”. As such, gun lobbyists have much greater political influence in the US than they do in NZ, thus making it harder for any changes to be made.

It’s not just the culture; the political systems also differ significantly. As stated by Sam Bookman, a former NZ lawyer working in the US: “to pass comprehensive federal gun control, lawmakers would need to build majorities in the House and the Senate. They would then need the support of the President, or else have enough support to overcome a presidential veto”. In contrast to the US, majority parties in the legislature lead the executive, which reduces disagreement between government branches. There’s also only one House of Parliament and courts can’t strike down laws passed by them. Thus, legislations are much easier to pass in NZ than in the US.

It’s easy to compare the 2 countries and say that the US should follow NZ’s lead, but the reality is, despite the heartbreak and the pain that guns can cause, this is a polarising issue. I agree that world leaders should learn from Ardern’s response and that gun laws in the US need to be changed, but the new gun reform is ideal for NZ — it isn’t made for the US.