America got schooled by New Zealand on gun control. We’re out of excuses now | Opinion

A doctor attends a gun control rally in the Pa. Capitol, January 2019. Gov. Tom Wolf/Flickr

Six days.

That’s how long it took New Zealand’s Parliament, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and with the support of opposition leaders, to ban military-style assault weapons in the wake of last week’s deadly rampage at two mosques in Christchurch that claimed the lives of 50 people.

The speed with which the island nation acted was a triumph of political will in the face of unspeakable tragedy. And it holds lessons for American policymakers who have been utterly paralyzed in the face of mass shootings in our own houses of worship, schools and public spaces.

Up front, it’s important to acknowledge that there are some material differences between New Zealand’s political system and our own.

Notably, there is no equivalent to our Second Amendment, which means New Zealanders have no legal right to own weapons for self-defense, as The Washington Post reported this week.

In addition, as The Post further reports, New Zealand’s parliament is unicameral, which means there are far fewer political pinch points to derail such measures.

Compare that the American federal system where bills can — and usually are — derailed at any point in the political process by powerful committee chairpeople; by dueling coalitions in the U.S. House and Senate; by influential and deep-pocketed interest groups spanning the political spectrum; by the president himself, who wields a veto pen; and by the U.S. Supreme Court, which can make the ultimate call on a law’s constitutionality.

Most of the time, the system works — protecting the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

But when it comes to gun-control measures, from universal background checks to bans on bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, the exact inverse is true. A noisy minority, backed by a powerful lobbying group in the National Rifle Association, has effectively stymied passage of even the most basic modifications in federal law.

Meanwhile, in the more than six years since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., America has seen 2,000 mass shootings — defined as an incident in which “four or more people (not including the shooter) were shot, but not necessarily killed,” as Vox reports. That’s resulted in 2,200 deaths and 8,200 people wounded, Vox reported.

But when it’s counted, our elected leaders have come together with relative speed. On Sept. 14, 2001, just three days after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. House and Senate approved a resolution authorizing the use of military force to hunt down and punish those responsible for the carnage.

Americans rallied in the days after the 9/11 attacks, in which 2,996 people were killed — including the cowards who hijacked the planes — and more than 6,000 people were injured. That’s a death toll comparable to the one exacted by mass shootings since Newtown, which were perpetrated by people who can only be described as domestic terrorists.

Then, as now, there is a majority will to act. Six in 10 respondents to a March 1 Quinnipiac University poll said they supported stricter gun laws in the United States.  And nearly three-quarters of respondents said the nation needed to do more to address gun violence.

Critically, more than nine in 10 respondents, including 89 percent of Republicans, said they supported mandatory background checks on all gun purchases, which is the most basic step that can be taken to curtail violence.

And 86 percent of all respondents, including 80 percent of Republicans, said they supported a background checks bill passed by the majority-Democrat U.S. House last month that’s unlikely to receive a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Asked about the New Zealand vote this week, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., acknowledged that it was “frustrating” that the Senate has not been able to move on background checks. Toomey, along with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has emerged as one of the Senate’s more forceful voices for mandatory background checks.

“I’m not for banning whole categories of firearms,” Toomey said. “But it’s very frustrating that we didn’t have a vote in the Senate. I’m still trying to persuade more colleagues to embrace [this legislation].”

Shira Goodman, the executive director of CeaseFire Pa., a Philadelphia-based advocacy group that favors stricter gun-control, said she believes Americans have “collectively accepted 40,000 gun deaths a year as normal.  I don’t know when or how that happened, but it doesn’t make sense.”

Even with District of Columbia v. Heller, the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed the Second Amendment right to firearms ownership, Goodman still thinks it’s possible for Congress and the nation to rally around an assault weapons ban.

“We’ve allowed a minority to set the agenda and that needs to totally shift,” Goodman said. “I think with the right leadership, and with what seems to be a differently energized and focused pool of civilian activists, we could do it.”

An island nation in the South Pacific showed the world that, with the right leadership and the political will behind it, that such things are possible.

The world’s greatest democracy got schooled in its own game this week. We’re out of excuses.

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Obviously you have never heard of the second amendment because if you did you wouldn’t be posting such NONSENSE in public.

    Go back to grade school and take some civics lessons!

    • If you read the piece, you would have noticed this language, starting with the fourth paragraph:

      “Up front, it’s important to acknowledge that there are some material differences between New Zealand’s political system and our own.
      Notably, there is no equivalent to our Second Amendment, which means New Zealanders have no legal right to own weapons for self-defense, as The Washington Post reported this week. In addition, as The Post further reports, New Zealand’s parliament is unicameral, which means there are far fewer political pinch points to derail such measures.”

      I hope you will return in the future and read our work thoroughly. — John L. Micek

      • The entire premise of your article is nonsense “we’re out of excuses”? There are no ‘excuses’. We have a second amendment and it has been upheld as an individual right by SCOTUS.
        So unless you think somehow 2/3rds of the states are willing to open the constitution and tear out the 2nd amendment you are doing everyone a disservice by authoring such tripe.
        Oh and if you do think 2/3rds of the state would be willing to do that you are delusional. That would in fact lead to another civil war.

  2. NOBODY is trying to legislate to end gun ownership in the US or remove the 2nd Amendment.

    The issue is the type of guns the public can own. Explain why is it necessary to own a military standard weapon? Why does legislation supporting mandatory background checks on all gun purchases fail to be enacted?

    The US was schooled this week and became even more isolated on the issue of gun control. No question.

  3. This is a sad age we live in. That American citizen for banning guns and or type of guns. We have more than enough gun laws on the books. New Zealand had background checks in place that did not stop a deranged POS from getting guns legally there. Also not one mass shooting in any of the US would have been stopped by the background checks you all say is so necessary. The US has a constitution. You step on one you step on them all. How can any American CITIZEN back a nation that has a department of censorship???? How come no news is talking about new Zealand citizens that are being arrested and fined for even talking about it?? Want the 2nd amendment modified? Then the 1st is going to be next. You already have police department in the US trying to arrest and charge citizens in the US because the cop did not like how they were spoken too. But they can say anything they want to citizens.

    • The Supreme Court, in Heller, in Antonin Scalia, held that the right to gun ownership, like every Constitutional right, is not absolute.
      There are already constraints on the First Amendment, established through years of case law. America twice banned these weapons. It is not without precedent and they were held to be constitutional both times. To proclaim that an assault weapons ban would be an attack on the Constitution does not even pass basic scrutiny. Thank you for your courteous response and thank you for reading. – JLM.

  4. The difference between the U.S. and New Zealand’s’ government make-up, IS the total difference in their actions. Our government can move that fast to enact a new law, but cannot move that fast against one of our rights, thank God.
    I don’t understand a journalist of 25 years experience using Vox as a source, their numbers have been totally blown out of the water. Seems like you would have checked on that.
    To complain about our system with all the checks and balances, you said it yourself, to protect the minority from the majority. All those stats, 80-90% of everyone, wanting more restrictions.
    Thanks, for the systems that are protecting my minority gun and privacy rights.
    I have found it useful to apply any restrictions one wants on the Second amendment, to first apply them to the First amendment, and see how they stack-up. They usually won’t hold water.

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