Ardern could not highlight the American shootings, although she had been inclined to
Janet Wilson is a freelance journalist working until recently in public relations, including a stint with the National Party. She writes a weekly column.
OPINION: When Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Hackett Fischer took a sabbatical in New Zealand more than a decade ago, he took the opportunity to write a book contrasting the ideals that mark each nation. Capturing its essence in the title“Fairness and Freedom: A Story of Two Open Societies, New Zealand and the United States”, it lists the glaring differences in our core values.
Hackett argues that Americans value liberty and liberty above all else, while in Aotearoa, our society values fairness, with those values forged in both countries’ colonial pasts. While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hasn’t read the book, she learned a lot about these different values during her visit to the United States this week. This trip was significant for the Prime Minister personally, as she became the first New Zealander to deliver Harvard’s commencement address, while New Zealand was able to announce to the world that we were open for business.
But it was the stories of gun violence in the two countries that brought these different values to light. In the United States, the murder of 19 elementary school children and two adults at Robb Elementary School has become another addition to the roll call of mass shootings, from Sandy Hook Elementary to Columbine High School. Nothing sums up the American belief in freedom and liberty better than the right to bear arms. It is enshrined in the Second Amendment to their Constitution and has become a politicized weapon of mass destruction thanks to the almighty lobby group the National Rifle Association. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut summed it up succinctly, saying, “Nowhere else do little kids go to school thinking they might be shot that day.
And if the fact that on an average day in the United States more than 35 people lose their lives to guns has you baffled and wondering why, it has left the Prime Minister reluctant to speak publicly about the problems of a other country. However, the topic came up in Ardern’s meetings with U.S. senators. They wanted to know how Ardern managed to get what they hadn’t so far – a nationwide ban on semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles, which she got following the attacks on the mosque in Christchurch in 2019. This was one of the reasons given by Harvard University for inviting him to speak this week.
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But if US senators had investigated a little further, they would have discovered that the Prime Minister’s record on gun control was a case of two steps forward, one step back. For example, last week’s budget announced that $208 million would be allocated to a gun registry nearly three years after Ardern first announced it in July 2019. The National Party leader Christopher Luxon announced this week that his party would reallocate the money to enable police to target illegal firearms, while the New Zealand Licensed Firearms Council pointed out that as the register relied on numbers off-the-shelf, criminals would simply delete them.
There was another reason why the Prime Minister would have been reluctant to preach about gun control; it’s called the pot calling the black kettle. Thirteen drive-by shootings in Auckland since Sunday, the result of a fratricidal gang war, hardly give the impression that New Zealand is an example of gun control. The fact that seven of these shootings happened in a single night, often in homes with no connection to the crime, is proof that the illegal gun trade manages to run unhindered in New Zealand. How many of these weapons would have had their serial numbers erased or would have been illegally smuggled into this country? The fact that no one has yet lost their life is miraculous. Meanwhile, innocent people are terrified of being shot in their sleep.
But at least here, following the attacks on mosques, the ban on semi-automatics has received pan-political support. The American political system is atrophied on gun control, with Republicans weaponizing the issue. Notions of freedom and liberty have made the country an outlier and the numbers tell a tragic story in the wake of the Ulvade shooting.
Since 2014, The Gun Violence Archive estimates that 34,500 children were killed or injured in the shootings, more than 6,500 under the age of 12. The availability of guns is the big issue, with the United States having the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. Additionally, gun sales have doubled since the pandemic, with nearly two million sales per month in 2020.
Which raises the inevitable questions; How fair is it that children lose their lives for going to school? How does this enshrine freedom and liberty?
As the United States begins to wring its hands over yet another mass shooting, it’s time to remember that it takes three days for the anger to dissipate after the shooting, according to a study by two Princeton researchers. Patrick Sharkey and Yinzhi Shen examined Gallup surveys of Americans’ self-reported emotions in the days before and after a mass shooting. They found that the more gruesome the massacre, the greater the impact on the local community. Democrats reported a 50% increase in sadness, with Republicans seeing a 20% increase.
But the desolation subsided at the same rapid pace. Three days.
Which allows American politicians to continue doing what they have always done. Look on the other side.