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John MacDonald: Are our gun laws really worth crowing about?

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Thu, 26 May 2022, 1:05pm

John MacDonald: Are our gun laws really worth crowing about?

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Thu, 26 May 2022, 1:05pm

Whenever I see something like that awful school shooting in the United States yesterday, I always think back to March 15 in Christchurch. And, every time, it still staggers me that it actually happened here. 

It wasn’t the first time in New Zealand, of course. We’ve had Aramoana and there was also Stanley Graham killing eight people on the West Coast in 1941 – and that’s just a few.  

But we have never, thank goodness, had someone go into a school or onto a university campus and open fire on as many people as possible. I’m not saying that would be any worse or more tragic than the mosque shootings – March 15 was horrific.   

But as details started coming through yesterday about what happened in Texas, with this 18-year-old going on the rampage at a local primary school and killing at least 18 people – I said to a colleague here at work that it amazes me something like that hasn’t happened here in New Zealand. 

When I say something like that, I’m talking about a mass shooting at a school or a university. The kind of thing that happens so regularly in the United States – there have been 27 already this year, according to one website I was looking at. But never here.  

And I’ve been thinking about why that is. Is it because we have the best gun controls in the world? Or is it because the New Zealand psyche just doesn’t make people even consider doing it? 

I don’t know about the psyche thing because, remember a few years back when the Police announced they had discovered a teenager in Dunedin had been planning to go on the rampage at a school? 

He was 17 at the time and planned to shoot teachers and fellow students – but police were tipped off after he’d been online talking about blowing up a school and carrying out a shooting, and posting what the police described as "inflammatory and extreme views". 

And when they raided his home, they found he had a pistol-grip shotgun and a military-style semi-automatic rifle in his bedroom, and some explosive devices made from gas canisters filled with gunpowder. 

They also found a diagram of the school building with "prime targets" marked with an X, including staff offices, and arrows showing how he planned to move around the corridors. So, for all intents and purposes. 

This all happened before March 15 and, since then, we’ve had the gun buyback scheme and other changes to firearms laws here in New Zealand which all came about following the March 15 attacks in Christchurch. 

And the Government has been emphasising, hasn’t it, that – unlike the United States – owning a firearm in New Zealand is a privilege, not a right. 

Which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talked a bit about on The Late Show in the United States yesterday.  

And I suppose when you’re in the United States and you see these shootings happening time and time again, you look at a country 12,000 kilometres away that had a mass shooting and pretty quickly started changing its gun laws and probably think we have it all sorted on the guns front. 

But when you’re 12,000 kilometres away, you won’t know about the taxi driver in Christchurch having a gun pointed at his head last Friday. When you’re 12,000 kilometres away, you won’t know about the seven drive-by shootings in Auckland on Tuesday night. 

You won’t know about the shots fired at the house in New Brighton last Saturday. 

You won’t know about the teenager shot dead outside a party in Christchurch late last year. 

And, from where you are in America, you’ll certainly have no idea whether the people who actually live in New Zealand feel safe and are satisfied with the level of gun control here. 

Do our dairy owners feel safe? Probably not. Do our taxi drivers feel safe? Probably not. 

So, from a distance, it might look like we’ve done something amazing here in New Zealand with gun control – and it probably will look amazing if we compare ourselves against the United States. But have we done enough?