Should the U.S. Ban Military-Style Semiautomatic Weapons?

Should the U.S. Ban Military-Style Semiautomatic Weapons?

Should the United States follow New Zealand’s example and ban all military-style semiautomatic weapons in an attempt to prevent future mass shootings? Or would such a ban be unconstitutional or impractical here?

In “New Zealand to Ban Military-Style Semiautomatic Guns, Jacinda Ardern Says,” Damien Cave and Charlotte Graham-McLay write:

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand on Thursday announced a national ban on all military-style semiautomatic weapons, all high-capacity ammunition magazines and all parts that allow weapons to be modified into the kinds of guns used to kill 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch last week.

“What we’re banning today are the things used in last Friday’s attack,” she said, adding: “It’s about all of us, it’s in the national interest and it’s about safety.”

Ms. Ardern is expected to encounter little resistance to the weapons ban in Parliament; the largest opposition party quickly said it supported the measures.

Ms. Ardern said her goal was to eliminate from New Zealand the weapons that the killer used in Christchurch. She emphasized that it would require a buyback of banned weapons in circulation now, plus regulation around firearms and ammunition.

“The guns used in these terrorist attacks had important distinguishing features,” she said at a news conference at Parliament in Wellington, the capital. “First, big capacity, and also their delivery. They had the power to shoot continuously, but they also had large capacity magazines.”

Ms. Ardern’s plan for immediate gun policy changes, announced six days after a mass shooting, stands in stark contrast to the stalemate and resistance to change that has stymied similar calls for restrictions on firearms in the United States.

Many Americans can buy a gun in less than an hour. In New Zealand, the process can take weeks or months.

Ms. Ardern’s handling of the massacre and its aftermath have resonated around the world and thrust her into the spotlight as a force on the issue of guns.

The shooting in New Zealand comes after the United States has experienced an alarming number of mass shootings in recent years, including the Sandy Hook, Conn., school shooting that took 27 lives in 2012; the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016, which killed 49; the Las Vegas concert shooting in 2017 that left 58 dead; and the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, which killed 17 people in 2018.

Ms. Ardern’s overhauls have been inspired in part by neighboring Australia’s response after a mass shooting in 1996. The article continues:

Mr. Alpers said the challenge for New Zealand would mainly be getting the ammunition and guns that already exist out of circulation. Half of Australia’s states had some kind of gun registration plan in place before the 1996 reforms, making it easier for the authorities to know what weapons were out there and what needed to be brought in.

New Zealand only registers 4 percent of its weapons. According to the police, about 250,000 people in the country own an estimated 1.2 million to 1.5 million firearms. It is unclear how many of them would be affected by the ban.

“New Zealand is at a considerable disadvantage to countries that have had registries, because there’s no way of tracing the firearms because they don’t know who’s got them,” Mr. Alpers said. “We’re relying entirely on the honesty of the gun owner to turn it in.”

Ms. Ardern said that fair compensation would be paid to all those who participate.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

— What is your reaction to Prime Minister Ardern’s decision to ban semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines? Should the United States do the same? If not, how should our country address the issue of guns and mass shootings?

— In a related Opinion column, Nicholas Kristof writes:

When a terrorist massacred 50 people at two New Zealand mosques last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern immediately grasped the nettle. “I can tell you one thing right now,” she told a news conference. “Our gun laws will change.”

That’s what effective leadership looks like. New Zealand’s cabinet has now agreed in principle to overhaul those laws, experts are reviewing ways to make the country safer from firearms and, Ardern promised, “within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism, we will have announced reforms.”

Contrast that with the United States, where just since 1970, more Americans have died from guns (1.45 million, including murders, suicides and accidents) than died in all the wars in American history (1.4 million). More Americans die from guns every 10 weeks than died in the entire Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined, yet we still don’t have gun safety rules as rigorous as New Zealand’s even before the mosques were attacked.

Do you agree with Mr. Kristof? Has America lacked leadership on the issue of gun violence? How would you assess the quality of leadership by elected officials in the United States?

— New Zealand has a population of 4.6 million and an estimated 1.2 million to 1.5 million firearms. The United States has a population of 327 million people and over 300 million guns. In what ways do you think New Zealand’s weapons ban is relevant to the situation in the United States? Do you think the ban represents a realistic model of legislation that could happen here? Or are there too many obstacles or logistical issues that would make such a ban more difficult to enact?

— Additionally, the United States has an explicit amendment protecting gun rights that New Zealand does not. The Second Amendment to the Constitution reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

However, the Library of Congress writes, “The meaning of this sentence is not self-evident, and has given rise to much commentary but relatively few Supreme Court decisions.” What do you think these words mean? What relevance should they have for the debate about guns? Do you think a ban on military-style semiautomatic weapons would be constitutional?

— In her announcement on Thursday, Ms. Ardern said, “It’s about all of us, it’s in the national interest and it’s about safety.” Do you think it is possible for the government to find a healthy balance between protecting people’s right to own a gun and public safety? Do you believe the government is currently striking the right balance? Why or why not?

Other Resources:

How to Buy a Gun in 16 Countries

How Australia, Canada and Other Countries Responded to Mass Shootings

What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer

6 Stories and Charts to Help You Better Understand Gun Violence in the U.S.

From The Learning Network:

Learning With: ‘New Zealand Attack: Quick Action, Near Miss and Courage in Christchurch’

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