New Zealand Acts to Reduce Mass Shootings. Why Won't the U.S.?

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I am usually provoked into writing about gun control after another mass shooting here in America. In Newton in 2012, for example, Orlando in 2016, and Las Vegas in 2017. This time the prompt is a shooting in another country, New Zealand.

Last month an avowed white supremacist shot to death 50 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The shooter carried out the slaughter with weapons, including an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle with a high-capacity magazine, that he had purchased legally, according to the BBC. 

New Zealand’s response to gun violence has been dramatically different from that of the U.S. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern immediately called for a ban on semiautomatic guns, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. The government will buy back banned weapons from current owners, making exceptions for those who need guns for pest control, stock management and hunting. Ardern said more restrictions would follow, including more rigorous licensing rules.

New Zealand’s plan resembles one enacted by Australia in 1996--also after a mass shooting--that is credited with sharply reducing homicides and suicides. The New Zealand law is expected to go into effect in mid-April, less than one month after the Christchurch massacre. 

Mass shootings in the U.S. provoke lots of lamentation and little action. The 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newton, Connecticut, in which a man killed 20 children and seven adults, including himself, spurred calls by President Obama and others for stricter controls, in vain. 

Since the Sandy Hook massacre, according to Vox, there have been 1,992 mass shootings (defined as an incident in which four or more people are shot) in the U.S. These have left at least 2,408 people dead and 8,160 wounded. Blink and these figures will be surpassed.

Mass shootings wreak collateral damage. Two survivors of last year’s massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, took their own lives last month, according to The New York Times. So did the father of a child killed at the Sandy Hook school. 

Brady United, a nonprofit that works to reduce gun violence, applauded New Zealand’s prompt action and called on U.S. politicians to pass similar legislation, including a bill that would ban assault weapons. (See this description of the bill for precise definitions of assault and semiautomatic weapons.)

“We must follow New Zealand’s lead,” Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said on Twitter, “take on the [National Rifle Association] and ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons in the United States.”

The U.S. will be hard-pressed to emulate New Zealand, German Lopez asserts in Vox, for two reasons. One, America’s form of government makes it harder to pass controversial legislation. Two, the National Rifle Association, which claims five million members, has stymied gun-control efforts. 

In part because of the NRA, the U.S. has “the most relaxed gun control measures in comparison with other developed nations,” Lopez states. There are “so many loopholes” in current federal, state and city laws that “most people can buy a gun without too much of a problem.”

The U.S. is the only nation with more firearms than people. There are 120.5 guns for every hundred Americans, according to the watchdog group Small Arms Survey. Yemen is a distant second, with 52.8 guns per 100 people. New Zealand now has 26.3 guns per 100 people, but it will soon have fewer.

The U.S. has much higher rates of gun violence than other developed nations. The rate of gun-related homicide in the U.S. is 29.7 for every million people, compared to 1.6 per million in New Zealand (before the Christchurch massacre), 1.4 in Australia and 5.1 in Canada.

Mass shootings account for a fraction of all firearm-related casualties in the U.S.. According to Gunpolicy.org, 36,658 Americans were killed by guns in 2016, including more than 14,000 homicides and 22,000 suicides. That total-death figure is up from 28,663 in the year 2000, an increase of 28 percent.

The NRA has derided New Zealand’s pending ban as “socialist disarmament” and has denounced calls for similar laws in the U.S. Such measures, the NRA warns, are steps toward “confiscation,” which is “the ultimate goal of gun control advocates.” On that point, the NRA is right. I want to see massive reductions in firearms, which would surely lead to massive reductions in deaths, injuries and fear.

The NRA has the gall to describe itself as “freedom-loving.” The NRA is actually a bully. It exploits the fear and fanaticism of its members—and the greed of arms manufacturers--to raise millions of dollars, with which it bends gutless politicians to its will. Most Americans want stricter gun laws, according to multiple surveys. By thwarting this goal, the NRA isn’t defending “freedom,” it is subverting democracy. The right of a minority to possess weapons should not supersede the right of the rest of us to live in a less violent world.

Further Reading:

Orlando Massacre Exposes Need for More Gun Control, Not More Counterterrorism

California Shootings Expose Need for More Gun Control, Not Counterterrorism

How Many Massacres Will It Take for Gutless Politicians to Stand Up to Gun Nuts?

Lax Gun Controls Pose Greater Threat Than Terrorism

More Guns Have Not Produced More Killings, But We Still Need Gun Control

Question for Gun-Rights Fanatics: Have You No Sense of Decency?

Also check out my free online book Mind-Body Problems: Science, Subjectivity & Who We Really Are.

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