When 50 people are sadistically murdered in a house of worship, the public understandably demands action. The recent mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, is but the latest example of this immediate reaction to horrific tragedy. It has prompted New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to announce her plan for a sweeping ban on all semiautomatic and “military style” firearms across her country.
This is the kind of dramatic action that gun control advocates will often demand in other countries that experience mass shootings, including here in America. Assuming the proposal by Ardern becomes law, New Zealand would declare private ownership of semiautomatic weapons to be illegal, mandate a buyback program, prohibit high capacity magazines, eliminate firearms conversion kits, and block future sales of such firearms.
This is a well intended move that the government of New Zealand, without a constitutional right to bear arms, is within its legal right to enact for its citizens. But the efficacy of these measures is a truly different matter. The ban on owning semiautomatic firearms in New Zealand is unlikely to prevent violence or stop any mass shootings in that country. Moreover, this proposal would be absolutely impossible to implement in America.
History and statistics show that New Zealand does not have a significant gun violence problem, and despite the recent Christchurch tragedy, mass shootings are almost nonexistent in stretching back for decades. New Zealand has close to five million residents, has an estimated 1.5 million firearms in circulation, and had a grand total of 48 homicides nationwide in 2017. It had been the lowest murder rate in New Zealand in 40 years.
The Christchurch murderer needed only a handful of weapons to kill 50 people. Putting that aside, there will always be methods in free society to engage in mass casualty terrorism. Just think of the vehicle attacks and improvised explosive devices we have witnessed in recent years. There is no realistic scenario where all privately held firearms will be turned over to authorities. A single handgun or rifle can be used to kill dozens of people, and it is simply not feasible to prevent a determined shooter from buying such firearms on the black market or smuggling them into the country.
Many proponents of the New Zealand firearms ban point to the 1996 gun buyback program in Australia as a key model to replicate. The political circumstances were certainly very similar, as the Port Arthur massacre in Australia spurred a major overhaul of gun laws in that country. However, despite massive public support for action, including for a special tax to purchase back the weapons, estimates show that Australian authorities managed to remove only about a third of guns out of their circulation.
Close to a million guns were turned in over the course of the program, and at least two million guns remained in private hands. In 2017 alone, Australian authorities initiated a renewed push to confiscate “grey market” weapons, meaning those that households had kept in defiance of the 1996 ban. They were able to retrieve about 57,000 weapons in that category.
In fact, there are more privately held guns in Australia today than there were before the 1996 ban had gone into effect. Despite this surge in gun ownership, the overall gun violence rate has also steadily declined there, according to government data. Not only was the gun buyback program ineffective, it was unnecessary. Neither Australia nor New Zealand are models of gun control success that America should or could even try to replicate. Any similar gun control efforts here would fail spectacularly.
Instituting a national program of gun bans and buybacks would a political, legal, and logistical nightmare. The Second Amendment is the obvious constitutional stumbling block for outright bans of weapons owned in “common usage.” There are around 100 million households that currently own firearms in America and close to 400 million guns in total circulation.
Going door to door to take guns away from Americans would be a fruitless and incredibly dangerous exercise for the federal government. Locking up Americans for refusing to turn over newly banned weapons in common usage would be tyrannical. At the end of the day, dedicated criminals and mass murderers will find a way to kill innocent people, regardless of how many laws against firearms that any legislative body successfully passes.
We all want to prevent the next mass shooting tragedy. However, policy decisions should be based on evidence, not on emotion. New Zealand should look to the data in Australia and note that draconian gun bans simply do not work. If they are not even worth it for those countries, they would be wildly counterproductive and impossible to pass in America.
Buck Sexton is the cohost of the morning show “Rising” on Hill TV and the host of “The Buck Sexton Show” on radio and podcast. He is both a former officer at the Central Intelligence Agency and a former analyst at the New York City Police Department. You can follow him on Twitter @BuckSexton.