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  • New Zealand's swift change to gun laws highlights 25 years of US inaction

    Vigil at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Thursday in Dunedin, New Zealand for 50 people killed when a gunman opened fire at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch on 15 March. Photograph: Dianne Manson/Getty Images New Zealand’s sweeping new ban on a range of semi-automatic rifles and large ammunition magazines, which came just six days after a mass shooting in Christchurch, has been hailed as the “fastest response ever by a government after a tragedy”. In the US, where conservative politicians have blocked even moderate gun control for 25 years, New Zealand’s swift action was greeted as a powerful inspiration - and a reminder of how far behind the country is. “Sandy Hook happened six years ago and we can’t even get the Senate to hold a vote on universal background checks,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York congresswoman, wrote on Twitter, referring to the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 children and six educators dead. Sandy Hook happened 6 years ago and we can’t even get the Senate to hold a vote on universal background checks w/ #HR8.Christchurch happened, and within days New Zealand acted to get weapons of war out of the consumer market.This is what leadership looks like ⬇️ https://t.co/TcdR63anBt- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 21, 2019 “This is what leadership looks like,” David Hogg, one of the students from Parkland, Florida, who founded the March for Our Lives movement for gun control after a shooting at their school last February, tweeted, sharing a video of the announcement by New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. Some Democratic presidential candidates have already pledged to support a ban on assault weapons - though one that would probably be much more limited that New Zealand’s. “We must follow New Zealand’s lead, take on the NRA and ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons in the United States,” tweeted the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who has been attacked for his mixed record on gun control in the past. “We had an assault weapons ban once, and we should have it again,” Senator Kamala Harris of California, tweeted a few days after the Christchurch attacks. “These weapons of war do not belong on our streets, in our schools, or at our houses of worship. This is a fight I will take on as president.” Pro-gun activists in the United States said that New Zealand’s aggressive action to ban ownership of previously legal guns, and enact a mandatory buyback, would never be viable in the United States. “The US isn’t New Zealand,” Dana Loesch, a prominent gun rights activist and National Rifle Association spokeswoman, tweeted. “They do not have an inalienable right to bear arms and to self-defense, we do.” In another tweet, she wrote: “To ‘follow these examples’ the US would need to repeal the Second Amendment, ban all semi-auto, force gun stores to show all purchases to gov’t, and spend $200 million taxpayer dollars to confiscate firearms.” I sure see a lot of people who like to say "nobody is coming for your guns" celebrating this confiscation effort. https://t.co/e3quZ8v7gi- Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) March 21, 2019 Rebecca Peters, who helped lead the successful campaign to reform Australia’s gun laws in the 1990s, said she believed New Zealand’s government action was the “fastest response ever” by government officials after a mass shooting. It took the British government seven months after the massacre of 16 children in Dunblane, Scotland, in March 1996, to announce a partial ban on handguns, which parents of the children had demanded as part of the Snowdrop Campaign. It took the Australian government 10 days after the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996 to announce the National Firearms Agreement. New Zealand announced the new ban on military-style weapons - one with broad support from the prime minister and the opposition - after only six days. “It’s a small parliament. It’s a small country. And obviously, they have very high support for it,” Peters said. In a press conference on Thursday, Ardern promised increased penalties for continued ownership of the banned weapons. New Zealand’s minister of police said police were “gearing up” to enable military-style weapons to be taken out of circulation. Police will be supported by the New Zealand defense force, he said, and would consult gun licensing records. Ardern promised the country would continue to consider broader gun control measures on Monday, including issues such as licensing, registration and storage. New Zealand’s swift action is a stark contrast to the political stalemate in the US, where conservative politicians have blocked any substantial gun control laws for 25 years, despite frequent high-casualty mass shootings. The US’s last substantial action on gun control, in 1994, was a federal ban on military-style “assault weapons”. But the ban was written to expire in 10 years, and did not require Americans who already owned military-style guns to give up their weapons - it simply tried to regulate the manufacture and sale of new guns. When it expired in 2004, an in-depth evaluation of the loophole-ridden legislation found that it could not be clearly credited with any of the nation’s drop in violence. The consensus among Democratic politicians was that the ban had backfired politically against their party, and that gun control was not a winning issue for the American left. They largely abandoned the issue for more than a decade. Since the ban lifted, military-style rifles have become popular high-end acquisitions for American gun owners, and have become popular for target shooting, even as they have become infamous as the mass shooter’s weapon of choice. Some gun rights advocates argue that military-style rifles are necessary for self-defense, including self-defense in the home. While there are restrictions on “assault weapons” in some parts of the US, in many places today, Americans can buy an AR-15-style rifle before they are legally allowed to buy a beer.

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