Less than a month after just one mass shooting, New Zealand's Parliament voted 119-1 Wednesday to ban most military style assault rifles and semiautomatic weapons in the most sweeping changes to the country's gun laws in decades. The measure, passed after a white supremacist killed 50 people and wounded dozens more at two mosques in Christchurch, also includes a buyback program of existing weapons; lawbreakers can face a prison term of up to five years. During an expedited debate that swooped right past the proverbial, meaningless thoughts and prayers crap, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke tearfully of the traumatic injuries of victims she visited in the hospital, noting that in every case they described "multiple, debilitating injuries," and never mind the psychic toll. "These weapons were designed to kill, and they were designed to maim, and that is what they did on the 15th of March," she said. "I could not fathom how weapons that can cause such destruction and large-scale death could be obtained legally in this country.”
Even before the changes, though, her country's laws were much stricter than those in our own blood-soaked nation, which boasts the weakest gun laws in the developed world and, less than surprisingly, much higher levels of violence. New Zealand requires a license, which in turn entails a months-long vetting process, to buy and own a gun, and though it has relatively high rates of gun ownership - over 1.2 million firearms, or a gun for every four people - it has very few homicides. In 2015, there were just eight gun homicides; the Christchurch shootings represented six years worth of gun deaths. On the flip side, critics cite existing gaps in regulation, especially around assault weapons, and even New Zealand has its share of gun freaks. On the day of the shooting, posts on Kiwi Gun Blog offered cursory condolences even as they analyzed the shooter's choice of weapons - "Started with shotgun, then used his AR15 to do the rest" - and warned, "Only one group of people going down after this...Bury your semi’s now before they get taken off you."
Still, their madness pales before ours. The US had nearly 13,000 gun homicides when New Zealand had eight; we have a mass shooting almost every day; we have more than one gun for every person; we have far more fatal crime thanks to our insane stockpile of weapons; and we can't even pass basic background checks without enough loopholes to render them pointless. Most vitally, we have a rabid NRA that holds sway over spineless GOPers willing to do its lunatic bidding. This week, the NRA was super busy. They freaked out about an Illinois move to slightly tighten one gun law, sued Pittsburgh for a "crazy" measure making it illegal to publicly carry magazines that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition, and blasted New Zealand's enlightened new law as "oppressive," "onerous," and "a blank check for gun confiscation," bloviating, "Officials can expect that their gun control measures will do little more than trample the natural rights of gun owners, drain the public treasury, and earn for themselves the meritless applause of an increasingly ignorant international civilian disarmament community."
Back on Planet Earth, though, the conscientious lawmakers of New Zealand weren't listening, because they were busy working to protect the lives of their citizens and "putting a marker in the sand for our New Zealand culture," which contrary to American culture evidently doesn't deem daily bloodbaths acceptable. It was their determinedly accelerated debate that prompted the one opposition vote from the one libertarian MP, who questioned the speed with which they acted. With no fucks left to give, Ardern dismissed his concerns with fierce acuity. "You either believe that in New Zealand these weapons have a place or you do not. And if you do not, you should be able to agree that we can move swiftly,” she said. “My view is that an argument about process is an argument to do nothing.” The bill needs only the approval of the governor general, a formality, before becoming law on Friday. Then, Ardern said, they will have done their job on behalf of the victims. “We are ultimately here because 50 people died and they do not have a voice,” she said. “We in this house are their voice."
That is New Zealand. This - infinitely creepy presidential candidate Ted Cruz making machine-gun bacon except it was an assault rifle like those used in all our mass shootings - is America.
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The illustrious Ardern. Photo by Edgar Su/ Reuters
By Stuart Kestenbaum