Within three days after a gunman killed 50 people at two New Zealand mosques, the national government had agreed in principle to a package of reforms expected to include restrictions on semi-automatic firearms. The South Pacific nation has a nearby template that shows such reforms can work: Australia instituted them with great success more than two decades ago, after a mass shooting with semi-automatic weapons.
These are examples of how rational, responsive leadership is supposed to work — and a reminder of how utterly lacking that kind of leadership is in the United States, where gun carnage dwarfs that of New Zealand, Australia and the rest of the developed world. It's a shame that Americans cannot count on their elected representatives to act responsibly on guns as most other democracies have been able to do.
New Zealand is among the few Western democracies that, like the United States, have few national restrictions on firearms availability for the general public. It's why the Australian-born right-wing terrorist accused of the mosque attacks in Christchurch was able to legally purchase the five weapons he used, including two semi-automatic rifles. It's a numbingly familiar scenario to Americans.
Less familiar is a government that actually steps up with more than just "thoughts and prayers" in the wake of such an attack. Less than 24 hours after the shootings, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a move to impose national firearms restrictions. Forty-eight hours later, the country's coalition government had a tentative gun control agreement in place.
Australia had a similar wake-up moment in 1996 after a gunman killed 35 people. The government responded with a series of reforms that virtually removed military-style semi-automatic weapons from circulation. There hasn't been a single large-scale mass shooting in Australia since.
Compare that to America's experience: Mass shootings in schools, campuses, businesses and places of worship have become so common in recent years that it almost takes double-digit fatalities to stir public reaction. And even those don't stir congressional action — largely because the National Rifle Association maintains a stranglehold on lawmakers' ability to legislate rationally.
Contrary to the NRA's sustained misinformation campaign, the Second Amendment doesn't prevent reasonable restrictions on firearms; even the Supreme Court says so. The problem is a small but vocal community of gun extremists who refuse to give an inch. Fearful of losing votes and campaign donations, a terrified Congress bows to them.
If Australia's experience is instructive, and there's every indication it is, New Zealand's leaders are on the cusp of making their nation a far safer place. America's leaders, meanwhile, continue to cower before the NRA and its allies — leaving Americans to cower, again and again, before rampaging gunmen who should never have had access to these weapons of terror.
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