Controlling the Recoil
The Christchurch terrorist attack has reverberated around the world. The live-streamed massacre by the assailant was a horrific glimpse into the end effect of bigoted madness, and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has received substantial praise for her response, particularly her adamant refusal to allow the assailant to have his name or face shared on New Zealand media or to give him a media platform to broadcast his vitriol. This is important as sensationalist media coverage makes the assailant of mass shootings the center of the story, drawing attention to them and encouraging additional mass shootings by depressed young men desperate for recognition and respect.
Another action that Prime Minister Ardern undertook was the ban of semi-automatic firearms for New Zealand civilians. New Zealand’s designation of what constitutes a “military-style semi-automatic” is quite broad -
“A MSSA is a self-loading rifle or shotgun with one or more of the following features:
• Folding or telescopic butt
• Magazine that holds, or is detachable and has the appearance of holding more than 15 cartridges for .22 rimfire
• Magazine that holds more than 7 cartridges, or is detachable and has the appearance of holding more than 10 cartridges for other than a .22 rimfire
• Bayonet lug
• Pistol grip as defined by regulation
• Flash suppresser”
New Zealand does not have an equivalent to the Second Amendment, and as such New Zealanders do not have the right to firearms; they have always considered access to firearms a privilege extended to citizens that can be trusted. The United States’ gun culture is predicated on the belief that self-defense and personal firearm ownership is necessary to maintain a free state. This is a relatively unique position in the world and receives a hefty amount of derision from those opposed to civilian firearm ownership.
New Zealanders by and large seem to support the Prime Minister’s decision, and it is their right to do so. They have weighed that the damage that a mass shooter can do against the damage that a tyrannical government can do, and have decided the risk of a tyrannical government is less acute. That is completely acceptable from an American point of view; if New Zealand falls to tyranny, it is extraordinarily unlikely that world order disintegrates. New Zealanders will undoubtedly suffer in the long run, but global trade, military alliances, international agreements and scientific advancements will remain more or less the status quo.
This is not the case for the United States. If the United States falls into tyranny, the world will fall apart. The United States may have lost some of its prominence and luster since 2000, but it is still indubitably the most important country in the world. It possesses the biggest economy, the biggest military and the most influential diplomatic presence. The relative peace that the world has experienced since 1945 has been predicated on America being a democratic republic interested in cooperative international engagement. In the post-Trinity world that humans inhabit world peace is not only in our interest, it is a requirement for the continuation of the species. We have obtained and amassed the ability to scour the Earth of all traces of humanity in nuclear hellfire; this should be in the forefront of all substantial policy decisions.
Pleas to take similar steps as New Zealand is an restrict access to semi-automatic firearms from American civilians run into the wall of feasibility - agree with it or not, the United States has had a solid 40 years of warnings of mass gun confiscation, and any federal action to seize firearms nationwide will almost certainly ignite the kindling that partisan firebrands have laid in that time, engulfing the country and subsequently the world in chaos. Civilian firearm opponents will say that the likelihood of the American government turning tyrannical, much less a civilian militia overthrowing a tyrannical government, is miniscule and pales in comparison to the breathtaking amount of deaths involving firearms in America every year. Unfortunately, such a miniscule likelihood only needs to happen once to shatter the chain of history.
An unknown percentage of firearms in the United States could be classified as “military-style semi-automatic” in the classification of New Zealand Law, but it is very likely around 30%. Any government method to seize 30% of firearms would be functionally indistinguishable from seizing 100% of firearms in America. Pandora’s box has been opened, and the best way to moderate the prevalence of firearm deaths - and subsequently, moderate calls to restrict civilian firearm ownership - may be to offer universal healthcare access that includes mental health treatment.
So to New Zealand, I say - good on you. More power to you. May nobody in your country ever get shot again and may you never have need of a firearm. But America’s drum beats at a different tempo, and we can’t address the same problem in the same way.