On March 13, 1996, the Dunblane Massacre took place in Scotland. A man named Thomas Hamilton assaulted a school with four legally-owned handguns, killing 16 children and a teacher (and wounding another 16) before committing suicide. Reaction was swift, and within two years the government had passed two acts banning all handguns in England, Scotland and Wales; the exceptions are “historic and muzzle-loading guns” and a few other types of large “sporting” handguns that are large.
Following the two mosque shootings on March 15, New Zealand has acted even faster. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whom I much admire, just announced that New Zealand is banning not only the sale of semiautomatic weapons, but ownership of them, which will end via a government buyback scheme. (The weapons used in the mosque shootings had, as I recall, been bought legally but modified illegally.)
Tvnz reports (click on screenshot):
Ms Ardern had previously stated that New Zealand would see gun law reforms “within 10 days” of the Christchurch mosque shootings which left 50 people dead. She took six days to act.
“The attacker took a significant number of lives using primarily two guns, assault rifles purchased legally on an A class licence.
“The time for the easy availability of these weapons must end, and today it will.
“In short, every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned in this country,” Ms Ardern said in a press conference this afternoon.
High-capacity magazines and attachments will also be banned along with the “military style weapons.”
Low calibre .22 semi-automatic firearms used mainly for pest control and duck hunting will be exempt.
The Prime Minister also announced a “buyback scheme” will be made available to those who possess any of the now banned weapons.
Wait a tick! Why do you need semiautomatic weapons for pest control and duck hunting? That’s unfair to the ducks!
It’s telling that the Federated Farmers, Fish and Game New Zealand, and the National Party (an opposition party; Ardern is from Labour) have joined in supporting the Prime Minister in the ban. It’s going to happen, and happen soon.
You know my opinion and my question: the U.S. should do the same, and do we have any good reasons why not? The Supreme Court has interpreted our Second Amendment, designed to enable militias to defend themselves against tyranny, as giving private citizens a right to own guns. An “originalist” like Scalia should recognize that, and everyone should recognize that this interpretation of the Amendment is an unconscionable stretch, designed to satisfy the NRA and gun-happy Americans. At the very least, handgun ownership should be banned in America, and so should semiautomatic weapons.
I can see no justification for America’s love of gun ownership save the oft-repeated claim that if guns were banned, only the “bad guys” would have guns. But we know that self-protection using handguns costs fewer lives than the accidental deaths caused by owning those guns. As the L.A. Times reported, in 2012 the number of defensive “justifiable homicides” using all firearms was 259, less than half of the “fatal unintentional shootings,” which numbered 548. And on top of this, that year saw 8,342 criminal homicides using guns and 20,666 suicides using guns (about half of all suicides). The Times report concludes this way:
So what conclusions can we draw from this? The notion that a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun is a romanticized vision of the nature of violent crime. And that the sea of guns in which we live causes exponentially more danger and harm than good. It’s long past time to start emphasizing the “well-regulated” phrase in the 2nd Amendment.
But it’s unthinkable that what just happened in New Zealand could happen in the U.S. For one thing, it goes against the courts’ construal of the Second Amendment, and on top of that it’s unimaginable that the Republican Party would support such action.
The prevalence of guns in America is not constitutionally permissible under any reasonable interpretation of the Constitution, and doesn’t make our citizens safer. Perhaps we can have rifles for hunting, but they should be kept under strict control, as they do in the UK. In the end, New Zealand’s immediate and rational response to gun violence stands in stark contrast to the refusal of our government, in the face of repeated mass shootings, to do anything but wring its hands, offering “thoughts and prayers.”