Response to New Zealand shooting sets precedent for U.S. By oishee misra and brian xu

A core of lead protected by a jacket of steel alloys. A cone-shaped cap nested at its tip, and a tube brimming with powder hugging its body. The entire metal contraption is slim enough to slip into a pocket, small enough to pass off as a pen. Yet this medley of metals is rarely seen in everyday life. It rests inside a chamber, among many others of its kind, ready to be ejected in a fraction of a second.

Bullets are not inherently evil. Neither are guns. But their unchecked freedom in our country has transformed them into the cause of death and injury for countless people, whether they be school children, concert attendees or church goers.

And as a nation, what do we do to help these victims of gun violence?

We send them our thoughts and prayers. We argue over whether to ban weapons completely or keep them exactly as they are. We point fingers and protest against groups, from gun activist organizations to religious centers, which we determine are at fault. We cite the Second Amendment and say guns aren’t the problem because we have the right to bear arms. And at the end of the day, we get nothing done.

On March 15, New Zealand faced a tragedy that further exemplifies our society’s constant misuse of guns — a shooting at two mosques in the city of Christchurch. The typically peaceful environment of the mosques was abruptly shattered by the sounds of gunshots that eventually led to the deaths of 51 people. The prime suspect of the crime is a 28-year-old white man who allegedly used a semi-automatic rifle for the shooting. This tragedy holds an unequivocal resemblance to the many that took place in our country last year, and has sparked debate about gun policies in not just New Zealand, but also the rest of the world as they watch this unfold.

The current consensus regarding guns in New Zealand is in slight contrast to that of the U.S. There, it is not a right to own a gun, but rather a privilege, which comes with heavy responsibility. In light of this shooting, New Zealand is now prompted with a heightened sense of urgency about their gun legislation and the amends that need to be made.

But beyond the sheer horror of another mass shooting, the New Zealand tragedy brings another issue into the picture. There have been alarming rates of gun violence in the U.S., ranging from shootings at schools to nightclubs to religious centers. The key difference between these two nations are the responses to these shootings.

Protesting is useful in uniting those who empathize with victims, but it is ultimately ineffective. A mass of people marching through the streets sounds impactful on paper, yet it does nothing more than romanticize an issue and is merely an illusion for change. Similarly, websites for petitioning, such as Change.org, have little to no direct influence for creating concrete changes. While thousands of people signing the same petition can demonstrate rallied support for a common cause, we are simply putting bandaids over bullet holes. Ultimately, it is up to our politicians and legislators to actually put these beliefs, our empathy and our sympathy into action — action that will illustrate true compassion towards victims by putting an end to our seemingly endless cycle of tragedies.

However, our country’s politicians and legislators have done an inadequate amount to battle this issue. According to Time Magazine, the last time actual legislation concerning gun control was passed was over 25 years ago. In 1994, a temporary prohibition was put in place from September of 1994 to September of 2004. This prohibition mandated that it was illegal to “manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon,” unless it was “lawfully possessed under Federal law on the date of the enactment of this subsection.” Attempts to renew the prohibition in recent years have all failed. After the deaths of nearly 40,000 from gun violence last year — the highest number in over 50 years — it is surprising and appalling, that our government has done little to nothing to alleviate the problem.

The cause for our government’s inaction is a multi-faceted problem. There are several factors in play here, the most prominent one involving the National Rifle Association (NRA). According to the Center for Responsive Politics, during the 2016 election, the NRA spent over $30 million in order to support President Trump’s campaign. President Trump, the leader of our nation, holds significant authority in the process of passing legislation. The NRA profits off of the sale of guns. Trump, along with numerous other politicians, clearly do not want to lose one of their largest sources of funding. As a result, they take the easy way out of making an ethical decision: they share their thoughts and prayers rather than making concrete changes that can end this vicious cycle of shootings.

In direct contrast, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has taken immediate action after the recent atrocity. Within two days, Ardern promised in a press conference that “there will be changes to ... gun laws.” Within six days, the government announced that all “military style” semi-automatic weapons would be banned.

Several strict gun laws are already in place in New Zealand. Buying a gun is a process spanning from weeks to months, while in the U.S. it can be done in a few days. However, one major flaw with New Zealand’s gun policies is that gun registration is not mandatory. The New Zealand government has several plans in mind to reduce the possibilities of future mass shootings. Backtracking from an initial statement to ban all types of semi-automatic weapons, Congress was recently deciding between restricting private ownership of semi-automatic weapons, stricter gun registration requirements or limiting rounds of ammunition in weapons. This openness to collaboration and diverse discussion for a solution in New Zealand highlights our own government’s inefficiency, as the polarization present in our political climate today only hinders progress. Our two political parties are deadlocked in a fight against each other rather than fighting the actual issue: guns.

New Zealand already has plans set in motion and has taken immediate legislative action, but this does not mean that they have neglected the emotional aspect of the incident. In fact, Arden has promised the victims’ families that the government will cover the funeral costs, provide financial assistance for them and even wear the hijab as a symbol of respect for Islam while honoring victims.

After an incident like the New Zealand shooting, it can be instinctual to point fingers at institutional failures and begin to organize protests. However, it’s easy to overlook where the true power to change these policies lie. Protesting will fall short of any true changes if our nation’s leaders and politicians fail to take action. Though our leaders don’t have the direct power to change our legislation single handedly, their drive can determine the overall attitude a country has towards gun laws and how adaptive it can be in enacting real change.

When leaders like Ardern jump straight into solutions to prevent future shootings, surpassing a basic level of expressing empathy, they inspire the rest of their nation. The New Zealand Congress has proactively analyzed the attack, locating flaws in the nation’s gun policies — lack of mandatory registration or restraints on magazine sizes — and they are proposing direct solutions to combat them. On the other hand, when leaders remain silent or utter a few words of condolences, their country becomes torn and polarized, with citizens debating between drastic measures and consequently, a lack of progress. We don’t have to let go of thoughts and prayers, we simply need to supplement them with policies and change.

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