Applauding a Government with Compassion
In the wake of last week’s deadly shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, amid the resilient survivors, grieving families, and reeling communities affected by this act of white nationalist terrorism, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a statement to the world. 50 people were killed in two mosques by an far-right, Islamophobic shooter wielding two semi-automatic rifles. As the world turned to see how a country with less than five million people would handle an unprecedented hail of bullets on its citizens, Ardern stepped forward to lead her nation and set an example.
The following Thursday, Ardern announced a ban on semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles, including a plan for the government to buy back these weapons from New Zealanders. Ardern plans for the ban and buyback program to be in place by April 11. The opposition party in New Zealand has also agreed to sign on to the bill. With this bode of confidence, the bill is expected to pass easily. While the American political system indundates itself with partisan politics and gridlock over gun policy, the Editorial Board applauds the New Zealand government for humbly expressing both respect for the victims and concern for the future safety of its citizens above political calculations.
Ardern also expressed genuine grief and empathy for the victims of the attack, their families and communities, and New Zealand as a whole. Shortly after news broke about the attack, Ardern tweeted, “What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence. It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities — New Zealand is their home — they are us.” In a meeting with Muslim leaders in the area, Ardern donned a black head scarf out of respect. With the eyes of the world upon her, the Prime Minister has continued to explain the values that New Zealand represents — “diversity, kindness, compassion.”
Additionally, in the days following the attack, she refused to use the shooter’s name. In an address to Parliament, Ardern said, “He obviously had a range of reasons for committing this atrocious terrorist attack. Lifting his profile was one of them. And that’s something that we can absolutely deny him.” Ardern has been heralded for this decision by gun control activists. Shooters like the man in Christchurch often want their murderous attacks to bring them notoriety and fame. The attacker in the deadly shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016 called a news station during his attack and then checked social media to see if he had “gone viral.”
Although there have been numerous comparisons made between Ardern’s swift action after the Christchurch attacks and the overwhelming lack of legislative progress following the numerous gun attacks in the United States, it is true these two countries differ in constitutional rule about gun ownership. Still, there is a lesson for American politicians to learn here. The United States’ Second Amendment has become so deeply entrenched with American values of freedom that challenging gun ownership (or even just introducing gun control measures) have been tagged as synonymous with attacking American liberty. The intertwining of guns with conceptions of freedom has manifested itself into protecting gun ownership to an unreasonable degree.
After the tragic Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, killing 20 children and eight others, there was a general sentiment that America’s relationship with guns must change. However, two gun control bills — the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 and the Manchin-Toomey Amendment — both failed to pass in the Senate. Mind you, 20 six and seven-year-olds were murdered just a few months prior, and the American system could not even pass common-sense gun control measures. The bills proposed banning certain high-capacity firearms and requiring universal background checks; they did not involve the buyback or “take away” component that Ardern is planning in New Zealand. The American political system, largely manipulated by the NRA and its campaign finance savvy, has ingrained within it a distorted sense of values where political prosperity is prioritized above the safety of American citizens time and time again.
Prime Minister Ardern has stood before the world as a woman who not only understands her people and country, but also how to lead with integrity in a time of overwhelming pain. Ardern has managed to match her grief with tangible legislative action and a sense of humble leadership. There is a lot to be said for a leader who understands the delicate balance of taking control during times of crisis while using values of empathy and morality to guide their decision-making. It is also worth crediting the New Zealand government system, where the opposition party saw the benefit in protecting citizen safety rather than fighting back on the premise of partisanship. It is a refreshing vision of leadership, and one that begs to be emulated by leaders around the world. The United States could use a strong dose of this humility in our own politics, especially in the gun control debate.