My husband and I chose to marry in Christchurch, New Zealand, because of its natural wonder and charm. We soon discovered its beauty extended to the people who were so warm and kind during our travels. New Zealanders have opened their home and their hearts to tourists and immigrants from all over the world, and their’s is a better nation because of it. Even in the shadows of a horrific tragedy, Americans can learn so much from this small, but valiant country.
Last week a self-proclaimed white supremacist attacked two mosques killing 50 Muslim worshipers and wounding dozens more. His aim was indiscriminate as he killed children, families and the elderly. The youngest victim was 3 years old. New Zealand was likely chosen because of its safe and welcoming culture, but also for the ease with which deadly weapons could be acquired.
In Australia, from where the killer hails, gun laws are strict. After the nation experienced its deadliest massacre in 1996, in which 35 people were killed and 23 wounded, Australians came together and chose the safety of their citizens over all else. They effectively outlawed a variety of firearms, including semi-automatic rifles, while imposing stricter licensing and registration regulations. The Australian government acquired over 700,000 civilian-owned weapons, through voluntary and mandatory buy-back programs.
Gun violence and homicides overall have steadily decreased since that time in Australia.
We’ve seen how Australia reacts to unprecedented gun violence. We know that America has failed time after time to take any action. How will New Zealand respond?
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already demonstrated exemplary leadership in the aftermath of this horrific event. She strongly condemned the attack and called it exactly what it is: terrorism. She rejected the killer’s hate-filled agenda and openly mourned with the victims. “They are us,” she said. “The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.”
Ardern has called on the world to reject Islamophobia. When President Trump called to offer his condolences, he asked what he could do. “My message was: ‘Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities,’” Ardern said.
Ardern’s boldest actions address gun violence. She advocated for the swift overhaul of New Zealand’s gun laws. Within six days of the shooting, New Zealand has effectively banned military style and semi-automatic weapons along with high-capacity magazines. The country will institute a mandatory buy-back program and levy hefty fines and/or prison time for those who do not comply.
In the U.S., where far more deadly shootings have occurred, leaders can only muster thoughts and prayers. When debate on sensible gun solutions arises, the pro-gun response is typically “it’s too soon” or “stop politicizing a tragedy.”
Instead of focusing on gun violence as a public health issue, Trump has inflated illegal immigration as a national emergency. In 2017, U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement reported 1,886 undocumented immigrants accused of homicide with few resulting in actual convictions. That same year, 39,377 gun deaths were reported.
Trump has also downplayed the harm caused by far-right radicals around the world and in our country, where such individuals were responsible for 59 percent of all extremist-related fatalities in 2017.
Here, we are told to fear Muslims, immigrants and refugees. We are also simultaneously told to trust an America with more and more guns.
Yet, it was a white Australian nationalist who travelled to New Zealand, altered his arsenal of weapons to make them even deadlier and executed unknowing worshipers. It was an immigrant Muslim from Afghanistan, named Abdul Aziz, who risked his life to stop the murderer. Weaponless, Aziz disarmed the shooter and chased him from the Mosque.
New Zealand’s reaction isn’t extraordinary, it just appears so in the age of Trump. After all, the president has failed, time after time, in the simplest of diplomatic duties — in this case, condemning white nationalism or consoling the Muslim community.
We can’t blame Trump solely for inaction on gun violence. Our society has become immune to the death tolls. Our leaders have too often been willing to sacrifice public safety to the mighty gun lobby, despite a significant majority of the population favoring reasonable controls.
New Zealand has taken swift and significant actions to curb gun violence while America sits idly, awaiting the next impending massacre.