Last week, on March 15, a White nationalist gunman in New Zealand shot to death 50 people and injured approximately 40 more at two Christchurch mosques. He videotaped the shooting, live-streaming it on Facebook and Twitter. Before he began the massacre of Muslims at Friday night prayers, he sent out a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto to government officials and the media.
As people across the globe mourned with the families of those killed, and with the survivors, the New Zealand prime minister vowed to take action.
Jacinda Ardern said the country’s lax gun laws needed to change.
“They will change,” said the prime minister at a news conference. She added that her Cabinet planned to reassess the country’s policies on gun control immediately.
According to media reports, compared to many countries, New Zealand has fewer restrictions on shotguns and rifles, while handguns are more tightly controlled.
Yet the country, unlike the United States, has relatively few murders by gunfire each year, and before this March 15 massacre, few mass shootings.
Here’s what The Atlantic magazine reported after the New Zealand shooting.
“This is the deadliest shooting in the modern history of New Zealand, a country where gun violence is rare and annual gun homicides don’t usually reach the double digits. The most recent mass shooting was in 1997, when six people were murdered and four wounded in the North Island town of Raurimu. Until now, the deadliest mass shooting in the country had been in 1990, when a gunman in the small township of Aramoana killed 13 people and injured three. After that shooting, the country amended its laws to limit firearm access. Since then, New Zealand has experienced approximately four incidents of gun violence in which more than five people were killed,” reported Atlantic writer Isabel Fattal the day of the shooting. “According to an open-source database that Mother Jones created, 103 mass shootings have occurred in the United States since 1990, 90 of them since 1997. Overall, the shootings resulted in more than 800 deaths.”
Hate-crime shootings are, simply, all too common in our country. The Sikh Temple shooting outside Milwaukee in 2012. The Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, S.C. in 2015. The Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018. And on and on and on.
Of course for victims and survivors, there is little difference between losing a loved one or losing the use of your limbs or organs at school, at a concert, in a movie theater, or in a church. But, somehow, a gunman filled with racist hate entering a place of worship and killing because of the worshipers’ very faith — where believers are on their knees praying, or reciting from the Bible, or welcoming believers into their house of God — somehow, that feels especially dark.
There is no telling exactly what will happen with the gun laws in New Zealand.
But imagine what the U.S. would have been like today if this country’s leadership had this type of reaction after the 1966 University of Texas Tower shooting, or after Columbine, or Sandy Hook, or Las Vegas or the Pulse? (Let alone in a reaction to all the people shot to death in U.S. murders that are not mass shootings.) How many people who were shot dead would be living full lives today?
“To make our communities safer, the time to act is now,” said Prime Minister Ardern on the other side of the world.
Let’s hope New Zealand moves beyond “thoughts and prayers,” the phrase our own politicians are quick to spout.