In the aftermath of the recent Mosque killing spree, the New Zealand government have announced that they will be banning “military-style semi-automatic” guns (which, despite the oh-so-scary buzzwords in apposition, evidently just denotes most modern firearms under NZ law). The intention being to prevent further such attacks.
I’ll put it bluntly. This plan is remarkable for being both stupid and immoral.
To explain why that is, allow me to delineate a crucial distinction.
I vehemently despise and oppose the wide-ranging firearm prohibition here in the UK. It is disgusting. It is an utter disgrace. I’m appalled and disheartened that there is not public outcry about it every day. And I have felt this way for a long time. It’s one of the very first political commitments I remember becoming passionate about.
However, I will concede something important. When someone argues for maintaining (or even intensifying) the strict gun control here, that is – at the very least – not an infeasible proposition. On the face of it anyway. For there are relatively few legally-owned guns in the UK. I have read estimates that there are a little over 1 million shotguns as well as half a million ‘other’ firearms in private hands. And, yes, that’s unquestionably far more than most people would ever guess. But you also have to keep in mind three counter-balancing facts. Firstly, those figures apply to a country of nearly 70 million people. Secondly, because individual gun-owners often have multiple (or even very many) guns, they constitute a much smaller group than those figures suggest. Thirdly, there is a de facto national registry of every single legally-owned firearm. And so, advocating that guns continue to be tightly regulated and largely kept out of the hands of the populace is – sadly – achievable. It can, therefore, simply be debated in terms of whether it is right or wrong.
In an interesting similarity, New Zealand has an estimated 1.5 million firearms in private possession. But in a country whose population stands at just 5 million – or 1/14th the size of the UK – that’s actually quite a lot indeed. Which creates some inescapable practical realities. The most salient one is as follows. Unless you’re willing to go door-to-door (because without a panoptic national registry, every household must be checked) and forcibly confiscate those weapons, imposing strict gun control is a non-starter.
And everyone knows that the half-measure of a voluntary buyback is a laughably ineffective approach. Once people have gotten used to owning the means of self-defence (i.e. a guarantor for the single most important human right), asking them to willingly relinquish it is a fool’s errand. I imagine many, many NZ gun-owners are going to flout this new law without a second thought. They will keep their guns, locked away from prying eyes in a gun-safe on their private property. (And if they are also decent, responsible people, it’s hard to really blame them.) After all, there’s a near-zero probability that, assuming they’re an otherwise law-abiding private citizen, this will ever be discovered. And you can bet that no threat of fine or imprisonment will change their minds. Because being able to protect oneself and one’s family is – for any moral person – a foremost priority. It really is as simple as that.
(Incidentally, I have read that NZ’s laws do not recognize self-defense as a valid purpose for owning a firearm. And there is an onerously high legal standard for being able to ever justify using one in self-defense. This is absurd. And, of course, beyond shameful.)
Thus, the New Zealand government’s plan is, as one so often finds with hastily reactive, heavy-handed gun control measures, just a feel-good fantasy. Meant to placate people who are easily placated, who have not thought through the infeasibility of its goals. You know, I could understand if they just said “alright, yes this is futile and idealistic, but it’s more a matter of expressing our values as a society than practicality.” That would at least be a coherent stance. An unpersuasive and indefensible one, but coherent nonetheless. Yet they don’t even take shelter under that quixotic defense. They think the plan will genuinely work. And say so too.
Tell me if you dispute this assertion: no evil person inclined towards or even planning a terrorist attack will turn in their guns. Wait, nix your answer. I’ll simply presume you don’t disagree. Because this is actually just a plain ol’ truism. People willing to commit mass-murder, and likely also be killed in the process, do not care one iota about what fines or prison sentences may await them if they hold onto their soon-to-be-used guns. They just don’t. I mean, why the fuck would they? They have broken brains and incorrigible souls.
Accounting for this, the only people who will be turning over their guns to a buyback program are – for lack of a less simplistic descriptor – good, honest, law-abiding citizens. And how exactly can de-arming them prevent the next terrorist killing spree? (That is, unless you posit that a would-be terrorist might go out of their way, and risk exposure, to burgle a stranger’s guns. Which I cannot recall a single example of.) In truth, you’re literally just removing guns from the people who do not plan to use them for murder and carnage. And thereby making the innocent citizens of society less safe. Because they will be less able to defend themselves or others. This is idiocy. This is reprehensible.
No doubt there are those who’d retort “it’s distasteful for you to even be saying such things in the wake of a tragedy.” Be wary of this. They know not what they do. Governments adore this kind of well-meaning knee-jerk rhetoric. Because it gives cover for them trying to enact authoritarian new laws in the aftermath of national tragedies. A time period where people are (understandably) still very emotional and seeking whatever radical solutions present themselves. The passing of the Patriot Act after 9/11 is of course the quintessential, always-referenced instance of this. You can rush through whatever horseshit legislation you like while a country is still grieving and angry and waving flags together. And it seems to me that the governments who cynically cash in on this window-of-opportunity to instate unjust and impractical new laws are the ones who ought to explain themselves. Not those criticizing and resisting such naked power grabs. There is no wrong time to do that. Because if not now, when? Freedoms are extremely difficult to regain after they are taken away. As will be obvious to any even very casual student of history.
So, let me restate my original thesis, in a different way. Their plan to revoke access to most guns will not work. And one should be glad it won’t.