What’s Going On: In shooting’s aftermath, who’s example will New Zealand follow?

Before there was Columbine, there was the Port Arthur Massacre.

In 1996, three years before 15 people were shot and killed in the now infamous Colorado high school, a mentally disabled individual in Tasmania, Australia, opened fire in a crowded resort.

Before the gunman was captured the following day, 35 people died and 18 were injured.

While the Columbine and Port Arthur tragedies were similar in many ways, including large body counts, weapons used, and their shock value on their communities and countries at large, there was one aspect in which they differed greatly.

Unlike their American counterparts, Australian legislators took preventive and some would say, intrusive action immediately. There were bans put in place on owning semi-automatic military style weapons, as well as pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns. In conjunction, a buy-back program was initiated that resulted in the government purchasing nearly 700,000 weapons (at a cost of $350 million) that were now illegal under that new legislation.

Since 1996 in Australia, there has been one “mass shooting,” as defined by four or more deaths, in which a man killed his wife and three children before turning the gun on himself.

Needless to say, there has been more than one in America in the 20 years since the Columbine tragedy, after which there was no meaningful legislation passed on a federal level, much less a massive buy-back program.

Ironically, Friday morning, an Australian was arrested after walking into a pair of mosques and gunning down dozens of people while killing at least 49. The irony though is this didn’t happen in Australia. It happened in nearby New Zealand which, not so coincidentally, doesn’t have a ban on military style weapons or high-capacity magazines.

In fact, much like gun laws here in America, anyone in New Zealand over the age of 16 with a basic firearms license can purchase and own any number of guns without having to register them, a “right” that is more unique globally than Americans may realize.

“New Zealand’s decision not to register 96 percent of civilian firearms makes it a standout exception, alone with the United States and Canada,” Philip Alpers, a researcher who tracks gun laws worldwide, told The Guardian newspaper.

What will be interesting to watch is what happens next. Will New Zealand follow the example set by their island-nation neighbor to the north, or will they continue to be one of the “exceptions” and accept these deaths as acceptable casualties, preserving individual liberties, like we do here in the U.S.?

Alpers has an opinion on the subject.

“I can’t imagine a country less likely to let this slide than New Zealand,” he said. “(Prime Minister) Jacinda Ardern is not likely to say ‘our thoughts and prayers are with you’ and then move on.”

Opponents to sweeping federal gun legislation argue its ineffectiveness by pointing to communities, like Chicago, with restrictions in place but high violent crime rates. However, it’s important to put one important aspect into context: geography. Australia is an island. Chicago isn’t. As such, when there’s a nationwide ban on something, it’s much easier to enforce when an ocean is your boundaries.

If Chicago, or even a state, enacts restrictive gun legislation, it’s easily circumvented by someone who can simply drive across a border.

Fortunately though, New Zealand is also an island and as such, could enact and easily enforce effective gun legislation — if they should so choose.

It will be interesting to watch from afar to see if they do and if similar results to Australia’s legislation occurs.

Meanwhile, here in America, we will simply wait for our next Columbine. Or Las Vegas. Or Orlando. Or Sutherland Springs. Or Newtown. Or Aurora. Or Red Lake. Or Charleston. Or, well, you get the point.


Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at gorear@nujournal.com.