The one lesson America needs to learn from the New Zealand shooting

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Alicia Lutes
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After the deadly attack on a mosque, New Zealand has vowed to reform their gun legislation. Why, after 50 shootings in the US in 2019 alone, has America failed to do the same?

Why hasn’t America passed stricter gun laws? Sometimes, the simplest answer is the right one. 

On Friday, when the horrific New Zealand mosque shooting took place, that country sprang into swift action under the tutelage of its inspiring Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, with a declaration that they would ban semi-automatic firearms – the guns most frequently used to commit mass murder. 

It was an incredibly heartening site to behold in the wake of a hate-filled tragedy: they made it look so simple. The news set off a wave of tweets from browbeaten Americans: ‘hey New Zealand, slow down and maybe try “thoughts and prayers” for a while, see if maybe that works.’

It truly is maddening to be an average American watching other countries handle gun violence. (To be fair, right now it is maddening to be an American, full stop.) To publicly write about gun laws immediately sends you into the toxic, churning political divide, where extreme emotional reactions not only survive, but thrive: on social media, in the news, and in houses of governance; and it doesn’t stop there. 

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern visits survivors of the Christchurch terror attack

Take, for example, a conversation I had with a gun-owning police officer from a deeply conservative, southern state about the subject. “I’m certain we have VASTLY different views on gun laws lol,” the text chimed back on my phone in liberal California. It was a more measured reflection of a sentiment that, writ large, contains far more fury in ‘The Discourse’, both online and off. “They’re trying to take away our guns! This is about our rights!” is a frequent rallying cry for those who say stricter gun laws and background checks and regulations violate our Second Amendment, or the right to bear arms. 

This is all bolstered by materials disseminated by the National Rifle Association (NRA for short, a non-profit organization advocating for gun rights), and parroted back by the many, many, many politicians (largely tied to conservative/Republican ideology, though many southern liberal/Democrats) getting their pockets generously lined by the organization in direct and indirect ways. It’s a small-but-vocal minority, enabled by a huge swath of apathetic Americans, that the people in power use as their shield of reasoning.

It’s an inherently corrupted system, and when something’s exploitable aspects have been cracked, it’s easy to split in two. Which is exactly what the NRA and its enablers (active, passive, or otherwise) have done through their political and financial persuasion powers. Americans are divided on this issue, the talking heads claim, but that simply isn’t true. 

“I don’t know about that,” I wrote back in response to the cop’s dismissal of our potential for agreeance. I explained that while I understand people will always find a way to get guns – and that America may never be a land where they are completely banned – “I am fine with people having guns, I just think there needs to be way stricter background checks and a ban on semi-automatic rifles; there is truly no need for civilians to own them.”

When will gun reform come to America?

“I can agree with that,” the cop responded, even going a few steps further to say that, “gun laws should be federally mandated instead of state-by-state,” and that “gun safety classes should also be a requirement, not just to obtain a CWP [concealed weapons permit], but also if you buy/register a gun.” 

The cop also agreed that, “stricter background checks and registering of firearms should be required” everywhere, but that military and law enforcement should be allowed to have AR-15s, even after they’ve retired from service. “Unless, of course, they’re convicted of a felony.”

There’s certainly a case to be made that these experts in their field, with years of experience using these semi-automatic weapons, should be allowed to own AR-15s even after they’ve retired. I could easily see it becoming a sticking point should federalized legislation ever make its way through to a vote, but otherwise the cop’s reasoning is deeply logical and echoes what you hear from pretty much everyone else (some might even call it liberal). It may not be 100% what I would choose (I one time saw a gun up close and cried), but I’m not above knowing that sometimes we have to make concessions, so long as that concession isn’t the frequent, tragic loss of many human lives. On that, we can all agree.

So the fact of the matter is plain: the divide is being enabled by inaction and fear at the top.

Protests against school shootings in the US

This is only further confirmed by actual data that handily backs it up. According to Gallup, only 8% of Americans want less gun reforms, and yet those are the only laws that seem to go to a vote. A staggering 61% of Americans want more strict gun laws. 

So why hasn’t America passed stricter gun laws? Is life so terribly different in New Zealand or Australia that they’re able to get it done when we are not? Is our government too big, are our laws too complex, our opinions too vastly different to unite? A lot of experts suggest that none of these things are true, and my several years of history courses in high school and undergrad lead me to believe otherwise, as well. To say nothing of the seemingly impossible things Americans accomplish all the damn time.

What, then, could be the reason? For me, the Occam’s razor of it all feels plain: American politicians are cowards. No two ways about it. They’re simply too scared to break ranks, rebuff the NRA, and lose out on their financial – and otherwise – compensation. 

The heads at the top have no empathy for the situation at the bottom, their focus is only on power. And the idea that we the people hold the power shifted long ago, because in our apathy towards civic engagement, we let them change the name of the game. They want to be elected, to keep and increase their power and wealth, and they do that by courting people that consistently vote the most: white, conservative, older men. Many of whom are part of the NRA’s five million members.

Sometimes the obvious answers are the right ones.

Images: Getty, Unsplash


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Alicia Lutes

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