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EDITORIAL: New Zealand takes action after gun violence. America should, too

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday announced New Zealand is immediately banning assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and "military style semi-automatic rifles" like the weapons used in last Friday's attacks on two Christchurch mosques. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian, File)

Why can’t America do something like this?

In New Zealand, officials quickly banned military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles after 50 people were killed in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. A buyback program will take existing weapons out of circulation.

It’s the way government is supposed to work in a democracy. In the wake of a horrific attack, elected officials saw a clear and present danger — and acted. Undoubtedly, lives will be saved in coming years.

Contrast that with America, where even the slightest of proposed incremental steps toward reducing gun violence routinely get the coldest of cold shoulders in Congress. Even something as non-controversial as universal background checks, which more than 90 percent of Americans support, are banished from serious consideration.

Instead, we watch the carnage unfold in one tragic bloodbath after another. Just last month, a gunman killed five people and injured six in a mass shooting in suburban Aurora.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, the gun lobby has thrown up roadblocks to protect itself and its patrons, the gun manufacturing industry. Yes, the gun advocates have successfully fought an unrelenting battle in state legislatures and the courts to make firearms readily available, even to people who pose a risk to society. But in the past, America has roused itself to make basic reforms for the good of the country, even when it seemed the laws of time time had put reform out of reach. It’s a long slog, but we can do that again.

In 1966, after a man with a semi-automatic rifle killed 35 people and injured 18 in the Port Arthur Massacre, Australia banned certain semi-automatic, self-loading rifles and shotguns, and toughened licensing and registration rules. Homicides have declined, and Australia hasn’t experienced a shooting of that magnitude since.

Since Sandy Hook in 2012, America has suffered 1,988 shootings in which four or more people were shot, not including the shooter. People die in far greater numbers in the shootings that take place on America’s streets every day. Yet lawmakers fearful of political repercussions have hidden under the Capitol dome and watched as more of their constituents have been killed by guns since 1970 than in all of America’s wars.

In Missouri, where homicides increased by 25 percent after gun laws were loosened in 2007, a state lawmaker recently introduced a measure to require everyone in the state from the ages of 18 to 35 to buy AR-15 semi-automatic rifles. The lawmaker later said he wouldn’t try to pass the legislation, but such capricious disregard for the pain and suffering of gun victims and their loved ones is all too common.

Instead of throwing up our hands, we should look to New Zealand. Change is not only the right thing to do, it also is possible.

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A closer look at New Zealand’s new weapons ban

‘One of New Zealand’s darkest days’: PM Ardern says gun laws will change in wake of mosque attacks

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