World leaders could take lesson from New Zealand in responding to gun massacre

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wasted no time in condemning lax gun laws, terrorism and hate after a gunman with white nationalist views slaughtered 50 people in a gruesome massacre at two Muslim mosques last week.

In just a few days she has vowed in fiery speeches to change the country’s gun laws and denounced the attacks as anti-Muslim sentiment. She didn’t mince words in describing the gunman, a 28-year-old Australian citizen, as a terrorist, criminal and extremist as she vowed never to utter his name — an act of defiance to prevent the fame he wanted so badly that he streamed his acts live on Facebook.

“He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name," she said this week.

Ms. Arden also embraced the immigrant community: “Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities — New Zealand is their home — they are us,” she said on Twitter.

It is exactly the way strong leaders should react when such devastation hits their country. Condemn the action, embrace the victims and push for change to prevent a repeat of such destruction.

The same type of leadership prompted change in Australia in 1996 after a gunman killed 35 people on the island of Tasmania. Shortly afterward, a ban on semi-automatic and other military-style weapons was instituted.

If only we had such leadership in the United States.

Instead, we have President Donald Trump, who downplayed the hate-filled incident in New Zealand as isolated (the gunman had a manifesto espousing white nationalist views) and denied there has been an increase in hate crimes when, in fact, such crimes have risen since Mr. Trump took office. He has even turned to his go-to defense of blaming the media when he doesn’t look good. This time he claims the media is trying to blame the New Zealand shootings on him. That argument is getting old, Mr. Trump.

There has been no blame game from Ms. Arden, whose strong push for more stringent gun laws came after just one major incident in the generally low-crime country. (And we should also mention many New Zealanders have voluntarily given up their guns as well.)

So many mass shootings have occurred in the United States that there is the danger of such incidents becoming normalized. We are so far beyond the point that “thoughts and prayers” became cliche that complaining about the phrase is now old hat. But the fact remains that no level of mass shooting has been enough to prompt significant changes in federal gun laws in a nation under the heavy influence of the National Rifle Association.

But rather than looking at ways to stop the violence, Mr. Trump spits out the same message about mental illness after almost every incident. He has introduced no policies, offered no ideas.

After the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, outside of San Antonio in 2017, Mr. Trump said the incident "isn't a guns situation" and that it was “a mental health problem at the highest level." He called the shooter a “very deranged individual.”

When 11 were killed by a gunmen at a Jewish Synagogue in Pittsburgh last year, Mr. Trump seemed to be pushing for more guns, saying that if the temple had some kind of protection the situation might have turned out differently.

Congress hasn’t been much better. They have failed to pass legislation for such basic changes in law as expanding background checks for firearm purchases. The new Democratic-majority House may be ready to take action, but there is virtually no chance that the Senate (much less the president) would agree. This after years of mass shootings. We are tired of hearing that there are already laws on the books that could better utilized. They are clearly not working.

Meanwhile, Ms. Ardern has vowed to announce reforms within 10 days of the shootings. She said weapons used in the New Zealand attack "appear to have been modified,” and one of the things her administration will look at is how to regulate such guns.

Of course we will have to wait and see if any of Ms. Ardern’s suggestions come to fruition; various news outlets have reported that the cabinet had agreed in principle on several initiatives.

But we applaud Ms. Ardern for at least taking such a quick, strong stance. We hope her changes in gun policy stick and that perhaps she can be an example for the United States on how to respond to tragedy. We will be waiting impatiently.

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