AP Photo/Nick Perry
Americans are fortunate. While people in pretty much every other nation on earth are heavily restricted in their right to keep and bear arms, we still enjoy a fair bit of freedom.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re still far more restricted than our Founding Fathers would have been happy with, but by the status of the rest of the world, we’re relatively free when it comes to guns. While machineguns are heavily restricted and, thanks to federal law, rare enough to cost a small fortune, it’s still possible for an individual to own one or more in most places, for example. You can own explosives, though with a fair bit of red tape involved.
In a lot of places, however, even the ubiquitous AR-15 is unobtainable.
Until recently, New Zealand wasn’t one of those places. Now, it is. The terrorist attack that killed dozens of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand sparked the government to ban such rifles, turning thousands of law-abiding gun owners into criminals overnight.
Now, the prime minister who made that happen has decided to prattle on about how she doesn’t understand why Americans aren’t going to do the same thing.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that she does “not understand” why the United States has failed to change its gun laws in the aftermath of mass shootings.
Speaking with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, Ardern noted that even though her county has a strong hunting culture and had “pretty permissive gun legislation,” most New Zealanders agreed after the Christchurch attack it was necessary to “draw the line.”
On April 10, less than a month after a white supremacist terrorist shot and killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, the country’s parliament voted 119 to one to pass gun control legislation that banned most of the country’s automatic and semiautomatic weapons.
Ardern said while there is a “practical purpose and use for guns,” at the same time, “that does not mean you need access to military-style semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles. You do not. And New Zealanders by and large absolutely agreed with that position.”
The idea of a foreign head of state telling me I don’t “need access to military-style semiautomatic weapons” is more than enough reason for me to go out and buy another.
First, allow me to point out to Ardern that New Zealanders aren’t Americans and vice versa. They may well have been willing to roll over and let the government take their guns. We’re not.
Further, we’re disinclined to allow knee-jerk reactions to a senseless attack dictate federal law when it comes to our constitutionally-protected rights. New Zealand gun owners had no such protections, I know, but we do, and we’re not going to roll over and let the government have a say in how we defend ourselves. We’re damn sure not going to let someone else’s government have a say, especially since we tried it for a decade and saw no change in crime.
The truth of the matter was that mass shootings didn’t happen in New Zealand before Christchurch, either. That despite the access supposed weapons of war. If the guns are the deciding factor, then why weren’t they far more common?
Perhaps it was because New Zealand lacked some of the other attributes that create potential mass shooters? I don’t know, I’m just spitballing here, but I do know that mass shootings were relatively uncommon before Christchurch and I expect there will be little to no change, much like how it has worked everywhere else. In other words, not work at all.
Arden doesn’t get why we’re not tripping all over ourselves to pass bans on these types of weapons. Luckily, I’m feeling charitable, so I’ll explain.
First, let’s get into the technical discussion of the matter.
New Zealand has a parliamentary system of government. As a result, the legislative body and the executive body are all part of the same entity. Occasionally, that means the same party, but more likely it means the same coalition of smaller parties. As such, everyone’s fortunes are tied together, so legislation happens rather quickly.
Here in the United States, we don’t like our executive and legislative branches being that buddy-buddy. Our system is designed to have a certain degree of friction between all of the various branches of government. We call this “checks and balances.” Each system serves as a watchdog over the others.
As a result, even if one party holds all branches of government, they aren’t a homogenous voice. After all, Congress gets elected on their own merits, not the government as a whole.
However, a lot of times, you get what we have now, a divided government. That means little gets accomplished, but considering how our Founding Fathers felt about government in general, I’m fairly sure that was a feature, not a bug.
This means that we rarely get knee-jerk legislation. It happens, sure, but it takes something truly massive to spark it. Something like 9/11 can do it, but a mass shooting likely won’t.
Further, any legislation also has to be able to pass the constitutional test.
I know, I know, New Zealand doesn’t have that. We do, though, and we’re damn glad we do. It means our government can’t restrict our rights for any reason and guess what? Our right to keep and bear arms is one of those rights.
So, Prime Minister Ardern, that is why we don’t do what you did. Our system is built in such a way that our rights are protected from would-be tyrants so that we can shoot those would-be tyrants if they overstep. New Zealand doesn’t have that, and I’m fairly sure it’s going to regret that at some point in the future.