On Wednesday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern successfully shepherded a law through Parliament that would ban most semiautomatic guns in the island nation. All but one of Parliament’s 120 members signed the bill, making it a near-unanimous decision.
After two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand were attacked by a terrorist gunman who fatally shot 50 people and injured many others, Ardern vowed to act swiftly on instituting gun reform. In the weeks that followed the attack, she announced changes to existing law, and placed temporary restrictions on gun purchases. Meanwhile, many of the country’s residents have voluntarily turned in their guns since the tragedy.
Ardern reform bill was affirmed by all but one of the nation’s legislative body — David Seymour, the leader of the libertarian ACT Party, voted against it. Seymour said while he was in favor of more restrictive laws on guns, he opposed the ban on semi-automatic weapons. His reasoning for so opposing: The vote was happening too soon after the attacks. “It is not an attempt to improve public safety, it is an exercise in political theater,” Seymour said.
The assertion that the swift move to address existing gun laws is “political theater” has dark resonances with survivors of similarly violent acts in the United States. When many of the child survivors of the Parkland shooting last year took up gun-safety activism, they were labeled “crisis actors” by their right-wing opponents. Conspiracy theorists also write off reports of mass shootings as “false flag” attacks, or attacks secretly carried out by gun-control activists to justify tightening gun laws.
Seymour has maintained that his concerns are largely procedural. In an opinion piece published on Wednesday, Seymour laments the lack of public consultation among his fellow lawmakers, expressing a concern that the semi-automatic weapons ban made “legal owners of such weapons pay a cost for something they had not done.” He also expressed some worry that the move would increase black-market gun sales in the country.
In New Zealand, where civilians own an estimated 1.2 million guns (about 26 guns per every 100 people), citizens enjoy a very low rate of gun deaths. This is despite the fact that gun laws have been extremely lax: Up until these new laws were passed today, gun owners in New Zealand did not have to register guns, and there weren’t restrictions on magazines.
Several of the laws amended Wednesday made permanent a number of temporary restrictions put in place days after the attack.
Before Christchurch, New Zealand’s most recent shooting massacre occurred 22 years ago in Raurimu, where Steven Anderson went on a killing spree with a sawed-off shotgun, killing six and injuring four. Anderson, a paranoid schizophrenic, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Authorities had, in the years leading up to the killings, attempted to revoke his firearms license; a promise from Anderson’s father to disallow his son from having any access to firearms went unfulfilled.
After a 1994 mass shooting in nearby Port Arthur, Australia, left 35 people dead, the Australian government took swift action to amend its gun laws — a move that’s been widely credited for having vastly reduced the impact of gun violence in the country.
For her part, Ardern rejects Seymour’s argument as anything other than a call for inaction in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.
“My question here is simple: 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,” Ardern said. “My view is that an argument about process is an argument to do nothing.”