U.S. reacts to New Zealand's gun ban

On Thursday, New Zealand moved to ban an array of semi-automatic guns and firearms components following a mass shooting that killed 50 people.

  • Gun control supporters are pointing to the ban as an example of swift, decisive action that the U.S. desperately needs.
  • Others note the inherent differences between the two nations, arguing that it is a good thing that it is relatively hard to pass such legislation in such a short timeframe.
  • The ban will surely shape future conversations about gun control in the U.S.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday plans to ban an array of semi-automatic guns and firearms components following a mass shooting that killed 50 people.

"On March 15, the nation witnessed a terrorist attack that demonstrated the weakness of New Zealand's gun laws," Ardern said. "The guns used in this attack had the power to shoot continuously. The times for the easy availability of these weapons must end. And today, they will."

The ban includes "military-style semi-automatic (MSSA) and assault rifles," along with high-capacity magazines and parts that help convert weapons into MSSAs.

"I strongly believe that the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest, and will take these changes in their stride," Ardern said, noting that gun ownership is "a privilege and not a right" in New Zealand.

The move, which also includes a gun-buyback program estimated to cost the nation between $100 and $200 million, is already changing the shape of gun control conversations in the U.S., raising questions about how lawmakers will react following future mass shootings on American soil. For the most part, Democrats are praising the ban as a shining example of the kind of swift and decisive gun-control legislation not found in the U.S.

Some gun-control advocates are pointing out discrepancies between the reactions of New Zealand and the U.S. following mass shootings.

But there are key differences between the two nations that help explain at least some of these discrepancies, including:

  • The right to "keep and bear Arms" is protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. New Zealand has no such foundational protection, as Ardern noted.
  • New Zealand has about 4.8 million residents and 1.5 million guns. The U.S. has about 327 million residents and 393 million guns.
  • The U.S. has a massive gun lobby, namely the National Rifle Association, which has nearly 5 million members, raised $366 million U.S. in 2016 and wields considerable power in Washington.

Some gun rights advocates noted how Democrats have said gun-control laws won't result in the government confiscating guns, but now are celebrating a law that does just that. For many gun owners, this might help to validate "slippery slope" arguments — or, the idea that the endgame of any and all gun-control laws is confiscation.

Other critics sharply disagreed with Democrats on the idea that swift, authoritative action is a good thing following events where the law is grossly abused by one single person.

"In most other circumstances, this argument would be self-evidently absurd," wrote Charles C. W. Cooke for The National Review. "If a serial killer walks free and then murders again, we do not say, 'Right, that's it,' and move to limit the presumption of innocence or to abolish jury trials. If a bomber stockpiles explosives in his home, we do not say, 'Ah well, I guess we need to abolish the Fourth Amendment, and before anyone can object,' and nor do we praise other countries in which privacy has been severely abridged for their instant 'leadership'in the face of evil. We shouldn't do it with guns, either. And, thanks to the Second Amendment, which was passed to prevent precisely this sort of behavior, we won't."

Writing for the Washington Examiner, Philip Klein compared New Zealand's recent exercise of power as equivalent to that which President Donald Trump sought to wield in declaring a national emergency in order to build "The Wall" on the U.S.-Mexico border:

"I strongly criticized Trump's declaration and believe Congress should act to rein in the Emergency Powers Act. Yet it's also worth noting that Trump's action was rebuked by Congress and will have to survive many legal challenges, which will at least delay it significantly, if not ultimately prevent his ability to build a wall. If Trump had the ability to act in a manner equivalent to what just went on in New Zealand, they'd already be constructing the wall."

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