I awoke with a toothache. It had been bothering me a few weeks, and I finally rang the dentist to get it checked.

"You've got a cavity," he says after reading the X-ray. "I can drill it and fill it for $150." Ouch. "If I get this done, it'll fix my whole mouth, right?"

He tips his head, looking quizzical. "Yeah, nah. No guarantee filling one cavity will guarantee the future health of all your teeth."


"Oh," I say, deflated and sore. "What's the point? I want my entire gob to be perfect from now on. I'll live with the pain. This is not a complete solution. It's a knee-jerk reaction."

My car's brakes start squealing on the way home. I'd been hearing them on and off for about a month, but turning up the radio seemed to fix the problem. Finally, I pull into my mechanic to learn what's the matter. "You've got 10 per cent left on your front pads. I recommend replacing them immediately," he says. "Does that mean I'll never need brake work again?" I ask.

He studies me like I've said something dumb. "No. Brake pads generally need replacing every 80,000km."

"Forget it," I say. "This is not a complete solution. It's a knee-jerk reaction."

"Not a complete solution," and "knee-jerk reaction" are two tropes commonly trotted out by gun rights advocates, who say banning semi-automatic weapons following last month's terrorist attack at two Christchurch mosques is not the answer.

American firearms enthusiasts, led by the National Rifle Association, have embraced the same rhetoric for decades. Slogans like "guns don't kill people, people kill people," followed the Columbine, Colorado school massacre in 1999 (13 dead); the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting (32 murdered); the Sandy Hook, Connecticut school massacre in 2012 (26 dead); the 2016 Orlando night club shooting (49 killed); the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting - the biggest to date in the US (58 dead); and the Parkland, Florida school massacre last February (17 dead).

The common thread between these atrocities is not only blood-thirsty killers but also semi-automatic weapons. Court documents from the Sandy Hook investigation showed the school shooting occurred in less than five minutes with 156 shots fired. One-hundred fifty-four of those shots came from a semi-automatic rifle.

In my view, the United States is unlikely to see meaningful law reform due to its gun-worshipping culture, the Second Amendment and the tens of millions of gun lobby dollars pumped into politicians' pockets each year - despite research showing most Americans say gun laws should be stricter (Pew Research survey, 2018, 2017).


Kiwis are different. New Zealanders are uniting for change. More than 1000 people told police they would hand in their guns a day after the Government announced military-style semi-automatic rifles (MSSAs) would be outlawed. A transitional order was signed six days after the attack. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said the Christchurch shooter legally bought his weapons, and that a buy-back of banned guns would happen. The bill wouldn't ban guns often used by farmers and hunters, including some semi-automatics.

Lawmakers Tuesday voted 119 to 1 in favor of new gun restrictions during the first stage of a bill they hope to rush into law by the end of next week.

The bill would ban the types of weapons a gunman used to kill 50 people at two mosques last month.

Imagine that kind of legislative teamwork in America. Not bloody likely. Tribalism delivers thoughts, prayers and body bags.

Australia banned semi-automatic rifles and shotguns following the Port Arthur massacre, where 35 people were killed with military-style semi-automatic rifles in Tasmania in 1996. Experts say the country saw 13 mass shootings before Port Arthur and has seen only one since - last May, when seven family members were shot at a rural property in southwest Australia.

New Zealand lawmakers have tried before to change gun laws, in 2005, 2012 and 2017, according to Ardern. Police identified firearms laws as priority issues in 2017. Were cops knee-jerking then? Are 119 lawmakers knee-jerking now?

I've yet to hear anyone say banning certain types of weapons will solve Aotearoa's ills. We must also close holes in vetting and firearms registration, outlaw online gun sales and ban foreign donations to politicians and political parties so overseas gun lobbies and manufacturers can't buy Kiwi politicians' influence. We must improve surveillance of hate groups and potential terrorists on conspiracy theory chat rooms and white nationalist message threads. We need real consequences for social media platforms that fertilise hate and incite violence. We need a lot more funding for mental health services.

Just because we can't enact all these measures at once doesn't mean we shouldn't take any action, ever.

Some MSSA owners complain they're being punished for the sins of one evil nutcase. They'll survive.

That's more than we can say for 50 Muslim worshippers who died March 15 at the hands of a maniac firing an efficient killing machine.

Knee-jerk reaction? More like one small step for humanity.