New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who enacted a trailblazing gun control law just days after a mass shooting on her shores in March, said Tuesday that she doesn’t understand the United States’ unwillingness to advance similar policies.
During a CNN press spot ahead of a Paris summit on online extremism — which Ardern co-organized with French President Emmanuel Macron and where she plans to meet with the heads of platforms like Facebook and Twitter to discuss the role of social media in terrorism — she said, “Australia experienced a massacre and changed their laws. New Zealand had its experience and changed its laws. To be honest, I do not understand the United States.”
After a gunman opened fire on the congregation of two different mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, while also streaming the attack live on social media, Ardern acted swiftly in banning military-style semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles, and high-capacity magazines. In organizing the Paris summit and meeting with key players of major social media platforms, Ardern has also demonstrated her commitment to stopping the spread of violent content.
Ardern’s ability to handle an unprecedented attack with such zeal and proficiency was applauded across the globe. Many onlookers, including the prime minister herself, turned their sights to America and wondered whether it could do the same, given the increasing number of mass shootings in the United States. Notably, the needle did move after the student survivors of the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, led a gun control movement from Twitter to Washington, D.C. Lawmakers in California cited the effectiveness of those students as a major reason why the state was able to pass some of the most progressive gun control laws in the country.
However, gun violence and what to do about it in America is mostly a moot point. Gun control groups want sensible gun laws — like red flag policies and nationwide gun bans on certain styles of firearms — to become ubiquitous. At the same time, lawmakers feel the pressure of gun rights organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA), which largely functions as an extremist political group that promotes the interests of gun manufacturers.
After the Christchurch massacre, many New Zealand residents were eager to adhere to the new laws, with some voluntarily turning over their weapons after the shooting. Meanwhile, in the United States, although most Americans, including gun owners, support basic gun control policies, lawmakers continue to bend to the pressure of the NRA.
Further complicating matters, the notion of regulating social media either with policy or by holding the platforms accountable could push the limits of censorship. Taking all these factors into consideration, it is clear that, in the United States, gun control is a multi-layered and complicated issue.
But Ardern is proof that a country can overcome these hurdles — and New Zealand is not the only one. As Ardern noted in her comments, Australia passed conservative gun laws, banning semi-automatic gun laws and military style guns nationwide in 1996 after a mass shooting in Port Arthur that killed 35 people. The result was an immediate drop in gun violence and the country has yet to experience another such terror.
But as the United States continues to debate the issue, guns continue to enter society. A recent report found that the FBI is experiencing a significant increase in background checks as gun sales spiked last year. The increase is so significant, in fact, that the agency is seeking $4.2 million dollar for its 2020 budget to improve its system to accommodate the increase.