COMMENT:

Just six days after the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, Parliament voted 119-1 to ban assault weapons. On April 10, less than a month after the shooting, the new laws were passed into effect. The United States should follow the lead of New Zealand and ban assault weapons.

In fact, America once had a ban on assault rifles. In 1994, President Clinton signed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban into law, effectively banning the manufacture of assault weapons for civilian use. It worked, but under National Rifle Association pressure, the ban was only a 10-year provision, and expired with the "sunset" provision in 2004 with no law to extend or replace it.

It has been 15 years since the expiration of the assault weapon ban, yet the American government - fighting against themselves, the constitution and the National Rifle Association - has failed to pass any form of common sense gun control legislation. While the US congress is locked in an ongoing stalemate, the American people are not - there has been 76 mass shootings since the ban on assault weapons expired in 2004.

Advertisement

Seventy-six mass shootings. Zero new laws impacting the weapons used.

After just one mass shooting, New Zealand's government took effective action. After 76, the United States still struggles.

In February, the US House of Representatives did pass the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. But by all means, this is a token law at best. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 does not address the real issue for mass shootings. The bottom line is that machine gun high-capacity military assault weapons are used in more than 95 per cent of mass shootings where 10 or more people are killed. The fact is that America doesn't need a token bill - America needs an assault weapons ban.

The US needs to think about the people from Orlando and Las Vegas. They need to think about the students from and Parkland. They need to think about the children from Newtown. New Zealand needed change and made it. America needs change.

If teenagers from Parkland, a suburban town in Florida, can rally an entire population of people across the nation that desperately want change and help a vote to flip 40 seats in Congress, why can't the elected officials now in place hear them?

People used to blame the gun issue for Al Gore's 2000 presidential loss in the US, but it's not 2000 anymore. Politicians don't lose votes because they are in favour of gun control, in fact, they gain votes. More than 60 per cent of Americans support stricter gun control laws, according to a 2018 Gallup poll.

But to really accomplish something, Democrats and Republicans alike have to stand up to the NRA. New Zealand respected and worked with gun owners, allowing hunting rifles. But in America, as support for stricter gun control laws increases, the NRA's leaders are flexing muscles they don't have anymore. They are trying to make this an issue of mental health, school security and video games - anything but the assault rifles doing the damage. Americans, like New Zealanders, must not let that scam work anymore.

In the US, the land of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, there should be no need to worry about school security against mass shootings. Parents should not have to send their children to school and worry about whether or not they will be coming home alive.

Advertisement

And while there are popular, violent, war-involved video games the NRA says are a culprit, mass shootings are not a new issue. In 1984, 22 people were killed and 19 others were injured in the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre, but nobody blamed it on Pac-Man or Tetris.

There's no longer space for legislative timidity. Mass shootings are not an issue of the past. You can compare numbers and look at the history of assault weapon usage, but history is not what matters right now. Mass shootings are an issue of today. The fact is that people are being gunned down by assault rifles now more than ever.

Think about Columbine; think about Parkland; think about Newtown; think about Pulse; think about Christchurch and the countless others.

The lightning speed of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the parliament has taught a lesson about how to get something meaningful done to make real change. America should learn the lesson - and ban assault weapons designed for war.

Robert Weiner was spokesman for the US House Government Operations Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, and the White House Narcotics Control Policy Office. John Black is policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.