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As U.S. struggles to pass modest gun curbs, New Zealand swiftly bans assault weapons

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush discusses changes in gun laws.

On Thursday afternoon, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced an immediate ban on all “military-style semiautomatic weapons” and assault rifles.

She also said the government intended to launch a buyback program for people who own the banned weapons.

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It had been all of six days since a gunman identified as a white supremacist killed 50 Muslims in the city of Christchurch, the deadliest shooting in New Zealand history.

The quick action was a stark contrast to the slow pace of making gun legislation in the United States.

(Los Angeles Times)

Firearms are part of the culture in both countries. New Zealand has 4.7 million people and 1.5 million guns, and the U.S. has 328 million people and between 265 million and 393 million guns.

But when it comes to gun laws, there are some big differences. Most importantly, New Zealand’s constitution does not guarantee the right to own a gun.

And though the gun lobby is influential in both countries, it is stronger in the U.S.

“There is a lot of energy in the days after a mass shooting in America, but it tends to wane pretty quickly,” said John Donohue, a law professor at Stanford University who teaches on gun policy.

Many attempts to change federal gun policy have failed over the years. When gun reform advocates have had success, it was often at the state level.

Here’s a look at five notorious mass shootings in the U.S., the legislation they inspired and how long it took for it to pass:


Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018.
Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018. (Mike Stocker / Associated Press)

Feb. 14, 2018 — Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Deaths: 17

Gun policy that arose: Gun purchase and ownership restrictions, increased school safety measures.

Scope: State.

Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act banned bump stock sales, raised the minimum age for gun buyers to 21 and set aside funds for school safety officers and security.

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The law also gives police more authority to confiscate guns from people deemed unfit to have them — a provision that nine other states and Washington, D.C., have since used as for their own “red flag” laws.

Time elapsed: 23 days


A First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs pastor officiates during a victim's funeral in La Vernia, Texas, on Nov. 13, 2017.
A First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs pastor officiates during a victim's funeral in La Vernia, Texas, on Nov. 13, 2017. (Nathan Hunsinger / TNS)

Nov. 5, 2017 — First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas

Deaths: 26

Gun policy that arose: Enhanced background checks for gun purchases.

Scope: Federal. President Trump signed the Fix NICS Act on March 23, 2018.

The law, which was promoted by Texas legislators, aims to change the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to keep felons and domestic abusers from buying guns.

Time elapsed: 138 days


Attendees run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on Oct. 1, 2017, in Las Vegas.
Attendees run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on Oct. 1, 2017, in Las Vegas. (David Becker / Getty Images)

Oct. 1, 2017 — Route 91 Harvest festival shooting in Las Vegas

Deaths: 58

Gun policy that arose: Bump stock bans. Bump stocks, which were used in the shooting, modify firearms so they can shoot like automatic machine guns.

Scope: State and federal.

Massachusetts, the first state to pass legislation in response to the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history, banned bump stocks on Nov. 3, 2017.

A new federal rule on bump stocks was listed in the Federal Register more than a year later, on Dec. 18. The rule, which takes effect Tuesday, makes it illegal to sell or own bump stocks nationwide.

Time elapsed: 33 days for the Massachusetts law, 443 days for the federal rule.


Investigators surround the Pulse nightclub on June 13, 2016, in Orlando, Fla.
Investigators surround the Pulse nightclub on June 13, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

June 12, 2016 — Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla.

Deaths: 49

Gun policy that arose: None.

No gun law reform legislation passed specifically in response to the Pulse shooting. On June 22, 2016, House Democrats staged a sit-in to demand a vote on gun laws. States also increased hate crime protections in response to the deaths.


Miniature stockings adorn a makeshift memorial for shooting victims on Dec. 19, 2012, in Newtown, Conn.
Miniature stockings adorn a makeshift memorial for shooting victims on Dec. 19, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. (John Moore / Getty Images)

Dec. 14, 2012 — Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Deaths: 26

Gun policy that arose: Gun purchase and ownership restrictions.

Scope: State and federal.

On Jan. 1, 2013, New York became the first of several states to pass gun reform laws after the Sandy Hook shooting, in which 20 first-graders and six faculty members perished at the school, in addition to the gunman’s mother at her home.

The Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed, restricted semiautomatic weapons, increased background checks and had provisions to keep certain people with mental illness from purchasing guns.

The same day, President Obama signed a series of executive actions on guns. Many of the 23 actions focused on directing federal agencies to better coordinate information on gun ownership and background checks, but they did not make major reforms.

Time elapsed: 33 days.


Police tape hangs in the trees in front of Virginia Tech's Norris Hall on April 16, 2007.
Police tape hangs in the trees in front of Virginia Tech's Norris Hall on April 16, 2007. (Casey Templeton / Associated Press)

April 16, 2007 — Virginia Tech university in Blacksburg, Va.

Deaths: 32

Gun policy that arose: Better background checks for gun purchases, campus safety improvements.

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Scope: Federal.

President Bush signed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act in Jan. 8, 2008.

The law was supposed to improve state reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. But the NICS was still regularly criticized for lacking comprehensive data.

Time elapsed: 267 days

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