Ever since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. last year, gun control has been at the center of political debate. Though millions have marched for their lives, countless town halls have been held, and thousands more lives have been lost to gun violence in the U.S. since Feb. 14, 2018, minimal steps have been taken to address this issue.
The American Public Health Association (APHA) has defined gun violence as an epidemic in the U.S. since it causes 38,000 deaths annually. Even though this figure tops the number of fatalities that result from car accidents each year, the possession, use and sale of firearms have relatively few regulations.
Mass shootings in the U.S. have historically been followed by lengthy discussion but little change. Following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., Obama and many others called for stricter gun laws, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. Since Sandy Hook there have been 2,014 mass shootings in the U.S., according to Vox.
It is also becoming more apparent that the damage caused by mass shootings reaches beyond the victims. Two students who survived the Parkland shooting last year took their own lives last month. The survivors and family members of victims suffer the pain of losing those closest to them, and often deal with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The majority of Americans support stricter gun legislation, according to multiple surveys, and we have an example to follow — New Zealand.
In March a white supremacist shot and killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The shooter had held a gun license since 2017 and used five firearms, including two semiautomatic weapons which had been purchased legally.
The New Zealand government responded to the Christchurch shooting within weeks, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern calling to ban semi automatic guns, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. Within six days, the New Zealand government passed legislation banning assault rifles. It currently plans to buy back banned weapons from current owners, making exceptions for those who need guns for pest control, stock management and hunting. Ardern announced that further restrictions will follow, including more rigorous licensing rules.
Some U.S. leaders have championed New Zealand’s efforts, including Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.
“We must follow New Zealand’s lead,” Sanders tweeted. Other progressive politicians have voiced their support for legislation like that of New Zealand, but opponents have also spoken.
Gun legislation faces more obstacles in the U.S., including the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA has called the New Zealand policy “socialist disarmament” and claims that it is the first step in complete confiscation of firearms. The NRA has 5 million members and powerful lobbyists in Congress who advocate against any form of gun control.
The U.S. is the only country in the world with more guns than people. According to the watchdog group Small Arms Survey, there are 120.5 guns for every 100 Americans. Yemen is a distant second with 52.8 guns per 100 people. Prior to the Christchurch shooting, New Zealand only had 26.4 guns per 100 people; soon there will be even fewer.
Additionally, rates of gun violence in America is much higher than in other developed nations. The rate of gun-related homicides in the U.S. is 29.7 for every million people, compared to 1.6 per million in New Zealand (before the Christchurch massacre).
Dylan Peters, a freshman majoring in neuroscience and sociology who is a New Zealand citizen, felt that the New Zealand government responded appropriately to the Christchurch shooting.
“I think what [Ardern] did was really brave, and I think what she did was really needed,” Peters said. “[In] New Zealand, these issues are not extremely prevalent, but today we need a leader in this field, and I feel like New Zealand picked up the slack there.”
Peters has lived in the U.S. for most of his life, and expressed his shock that such an event could have occurred in New Zealand.
“It’s the one place in the world where I would least expect this to happen... I would never imagine that this would be a possibility, never in a million years, and it was,” Peters said. “I don’t think anyone considers New Zealand to be a place with gun issues or mass shootings.”
Peters added that he hopes the U.S. will follow the lead of New Zealand.
“I think [Donald Trump] needs to follow the lead of Ardern. What she did was historically unprecedented, and I think it was a major slap in the face to the United States, especially to the current leadership,” Peters said.
Time will tell if American policies will represent the feelings of U.S. citizens on guns and whether this epidemic will ever be addressed.