What is the reasonable value of human life?
Less than a month after deadly shootings left 50 dead and 50 seriously injured in New Zealand, the nation passed legislation banning automatic weapons and most semiautomatic weapons including military style assault rifles.
Under the new law, New Zealand citizens can still possess some semiautomatic weapons like .22-caliber rifles with magazines holding fewer than ten rounds and shotguns holding fewer than six rounds. But the weapons used in the March shootings, the first in New Zealand since 1990, are now illegal. This bill passed with nearly unanimous bipartisan support, with 119 of 120 legislators voting in favor.
It took only one shooting for New Zealand to realize the need to protect human life. But in the United States, cultural and political opposition to common sense gun control persists, and the body count continues to rise. A New York Times analysis tallied 111 shootings in American schools since 1970, resulting in 202 deaths and 454 injuries. These numbers are staggering, but they include only attacks occurring in schools. They don’t reflect the 2017 Las Vegas country music festival shooting (58 killed), the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting (49 killed), the 2017 Southerland Springs church shooting (26 killed), or any of the many shootings that have become routine in the U.S.
In America, it can take less than an hour to buy a gun. In many cases, the only federally mandated prerequisite is an instant background check for criminal convictions, domestic violence, and immigration status. Even this basic background check is not required when buying from a private seller and private sales account for a third of all U.S. gun purchases.
The 2nd Amendment is an undeniable right. But it was written in 1787, long before the existence of weapons capable of firing hundreds of rounds in minutes. Laws must adapt to changing times and technological advances.
In New Zealand, the process for acquiring a firearm includes a home security inspection for proper gun storage, a gun safety course, a character reference, and a background check of criminal, medical, mental health, and domestic violence records. Australia requires gun owners to provide a valid reason for gun possession (such as hunting or farming). Austria mandates a 3-day “cool off” period between purchasing and possessing a new gun in order to deter impulsive violence, and many countries require buyers to demonstrate the ability to operate the weapon properly and hit targets. Any one of these security measures could save lives in America.
After the shootings in New Zealand, Prime minister Jacinida Ardern said she could not face survivors and tell them “Our system and our laws allow these guns to be available and that is O.K. It is not.” New Zealand decided that it would not tolerate preventable mass shootings, and acted.
But in America, access to weapons appears to be more important than public safety and the American people continue to pay the price. Can we continue to pretend that our system is not broken? Can we continue to allow concert goers and worshipers and school children to be massacred? Can we face our communities, our children, and ourselves and pretend that this is O.K.?
Nick Wilson is a junior at Boston College and is studying environemntal sciences.