Ease of adopting gun laws in NZ begs question: Why not here?
WASHINGTON — After the mass shooting killed 50 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, last Friday, that nation’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, acted quickly in announcing a ban on military-style, semi-automatic weaponry and high-capacity ammunition magazines — leading Connecticut lawmakers and gun-violence prevention advocates to wonder: “Why not here?”
“They were able to do in six days what we couldn’t do in six years,” said Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence.
Although gun measures such as expanded background checks have long been stymied on Capitol Hill, Connecticut adopted one of the nation’s strictest sets of firearms laws in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.
American voters last November gave control of the House to Democrats, many of them elected on a platforms including background checks and restoration of the assault-weapon ban that expired in 2004.
The House already has passed legislation expanding background checks and ending a loophole that effectively limits the time the FBI has to check backgrounds of prospective gunbuyers. But the measures appear unlikely to get votes in the Republican-controlled Senate, and President Donald Trump has threatened to veto them if they arrive on his desk.
“If measures like these are stalled by Republicans, it may take a change in the composition of the Congress, specifically in the Senate — as well as a change in the person sitting in the Oval Office — before we can implement” gun laws, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District.
But unlike recent years when Republicans in control of both House and Senate scuttled gun bills, the new landscape gives some Democratic lawmakers cause for hope.
’We’re elevating voices, and people are electing leaders who favor common sense gun reform,” said Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District. “Background checks should not be a partisan issue. We should still be able to make reforms while protecting Second Amendment rights.”
She added: “I’m optimistic the Senate will pass the legislation.”
Even so, Connecticut’s all-Democratic congressional delegation can only envy the process in New Zealand, in which the prime minister’s pledge is likely to win swift approval in the nation’s Parliament. The leading opposition party has given its nod.
“It’s frustrating to see New Zealand respond to bloodshed so quickly, but we can’t do the same because of our warped politics,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District.
In Himes’ view, the chief culprit is the National Rifle Association and firearms manufacturers eager to stoke fear of gun laws in order to sell more weapons — a “rogue’s gallery of opponents,” he said.
Gun-rights advocates counter that broad brushstroke solutions run afoul of the Second Amendment, which states “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
“Though our society may not be perfect, our system of government at least recognizes an individual’s right to self-protection,” said Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League.
To be sure, gun culture and gun ownership is ingrained in the politically and ethnically diverse United States, more so than in relatively homogenous New Zealand, with its population of 4.7 million.
Gun ownership in New Zealand is 30 per every 100 residents, according the Australia-based GunPolicy.org.
In the U.S., the comparable figure is 101 guns for every 100 people.
The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Second Amendment as giving all Americans the right to own a gun in their home for self-protection.
But the court ruling in that case, D.C. v Heller in 2008, made it clear that like all rights, the Second Amendment has limits. Legislative bodies are free to place limits on gun buying and possession as long as they don’t ban it outright, the court said.
New Zealand’s weapon ban and offer to buy back weapons from the public represent “a model to consider emulating,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
“New Zealand did in six days what we still have failed to accomplish years after Sandy Hook,” Blumenthal said. “There is no rational reason for weapons of war to be sold legally.”