Sam Bookman: Why New Zealand isn’t a model for US gun reform


Sam Bookman is a former New Zealand lawyer operating in the USA, and will probably be beginning doctoral research at Harvard Law School in comparative constitutional law. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more remark on CNN.

(CNN)Americans rarely pay more attention to New Zealand. That changed over a week ago, following the alleged white supremacist assault about two mosques in the city of Christchurch. In days, American press outlets were looking for courses that may be drawn from those horrific events, with a specific emphasis on how the two countries have responded to mass shootings.

But we should be cautious about drawing too many close parallels between New Zealand and the US: the two countries are very different, both culturally and politically. And at times, efforts to highlight the comparisons have risked drowning out the adventures of their sufferers,

whose funerals started

past Wednesday.

What happened in New Zealand was first and foremost an assault on that nation’s Muslim community. Before thinking about exactly what the Christchurch terror attacks might mean for the USA, we should choose the opportunity to learn

the stories of those killed


However given the frustration that many Americans feel about the lack of progress about gun control, it’s not surprising that much of the media attention in the United States has been around gun reform. The day after the assault, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern


which New Zealand’s lenient gun laws would alter. And on the Thursday following the massacre, Ardern

started to provide

on this promise.

    New Zealand

    has put forwards

    a step to prohibit all military-style semi-automatics and buy those currently in circulation. The law is very likely to pass on: New Zealand’s key opposition party and cultivation lobby have announced that

    they will support

    the invoice. Meanwhile,

    executive regulations

    will stop semi-automatics being possessed and accredited.

    'In New Zealand we will give him nothing -- not even his name'

    The scope and efficacy of the New Zealand reforms remain to be viewed. But

    some Americans

    are already

    calling the USA

    to follow New Zealand’s lead, and asking why gun reform is so much harder to reach in this country.

    Ardern’s leadership is one reason. She is principled, driven and


    . But Lots of the differences between New Zealand and the United States run much deeper.

    Constitutional differences

    Most Americans

    support higher limitations on firearms

    . Yet politicians in the United States appear not able to deliver. Part of the reason is that the American governmental system is designed with checks and balances, producing a lot of veto points for entrenched opponents. To pass comprehensive national gun control, lawmakers would have to create majorities in the House and the Senate. They’d then want the help of the President, or else have sufficient support to overcome a presidential veto. That takes a great deal of cooperation: some thing that’s in short supply in gridlocked Washington today.

    The American system also gives disproportionate power from the Senate to rural minorities, where gun culture is strongest.

    High gun-owning countries

    , like Montana and Wyoming, deliver as many senators to Washington as more populous (but lesser gun-owning) states like Illinois and Massachusetts.

    New Zealand is moving to ban assault weapons. Why can't we?

    Even when the executive and legislative branches may pass gun control, then there is not any guarantee it would be constitutional. The Second Amendment beautifully simplifies”the best of people to keep and bear Arms.” Back in 2008, the Supreme Court


    that a ban on handguns will violate that right. While some limits on gun possession are legal, it’s

    not apparent

    whether these include a ban on semi-automatics. At the minimum, a legislative ban

    would face

    lengthy court challenges.

    By comparison, New Zealand’s inherent system is designed to be representative and nimble. Parliament is overrun: seats are

    generally allocated

    on the foundation of a federal vote. And beneath New Zealand’s financial system, bulk parties in the legislature additionally lead the executive, decreasing the chances of debate between the branches of the government. Furthermore, there’s just one House of Parliament. And below New Zealand’s


    , courts cannot strike down legislation passed by Parliament.

    There is a trade-off here. Not having checks and balances might signify it would be less difficult to get a populist party to take charge of this New Zealand authorities without being held to account. However, it will make legislation easier to maneuver.

    Cultural differences

    There is also a huge difference in gun culture. Although New Zealand has a high rate of gun ownership (

    at 26.3 guns per 100 individuals

    ), guns are associated with a

    rural civilization

    of hunting and pest control; not self-evident. Indeed, New Zealand’s police force

    do not usually transmit

    firearms, and the police union


    gun controller.

    Unlike US, New Zealand isn't just offering thoughts and prayers

    That’s very different to the United States, in which gun ownership has been woven into a narrative about American freedom. Lobby groups, like the National Rifle Association (NRA), draw America’s

    revolutionary past

    and also the

    Second Amendment

    within a basic right to self-defense, and 60% of American gun owners state that their main reason for having a gun would be

    personal safety.

    This story makes it more difficult to convince some Americans to support gun control, also allows groups such as the NRA to paint opponents as disloyal or


    . The powerful emotions generated by this story make an

    enthusiasm gap

    : even though they might be fewer, opponents of gun control tend to be more enthusiastic about the issue than people on the opposing side.

    that the use of money in politics

    World stunned by explosion of hate

    Relatedly, there is a enormous difference in the influence of special interests. The NRA


    a lobbying expenditure of more than $5 million 2018, and in accordance with the Center for Responsive politics, it invested a

    whopping $36 million

    throughout the 2017 election cycle. Moreover, the NRA’s

    dedicated membership foundation

    gives it with a heart of supporters who can potentially make or break a candidate’s chances of reelection.

    New Zealand also has a

    gun lobby

    . Though



    without any fulltime lobbyists

    in Wellington, it was able to obstruct

    previous efforts

    in gun reform. But it wields nothing such as the power of this NRA. The deficiency of a large supporter base means that the electoral risk for politicians is significantly lower, also New Zealand’s

    electoral legislation

    — that more closely restricts contributions and spending third parties — reduce reliance on particular interests. One horrible terror attack is sufficient to overcome the gun lobby’s influence.

    An uncomfortable fact

      Global comparisons can’t offer a silver bullet solution to America’s encounters of gun violence. The New Zealand response is a product of a civilization with a different strategy to firearms, and also a political system which enables quick responses to immediate problems. That has a price, and a few New Zealand scholars

      are uncomfortable

      with the lack of checks and balances within their constitutional system. However, in the trade-off between efficacy and safeguards, Kiwis have preferred the former.

      If anything can be learned from overseas experiences, it’s that the origins of America’s gun control impasse lie quite deep. If gridlock will be broken, then it will only be through structural and comprehensive shift.


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