The Parliament of New Zealand passed a new law banning most semiautomatic weapons on April 10, a law that has overwhelming public support. According to a recent public opinion poll, 61 percent of New Zealanders think that the new law was “about right.”
Public support for the new gun law was a key reason for its swift passage. On March 15, the shootings in two mosques in Christchurch claimed the lives of 50 New Zealanders. On March 21, Prime Minister Ardern announced a national ban on military-style semiautomatic weapons. Immediately after the announcement the opposition leader, Simon Bridges from the National Party, vowed to support the Prime Minister’s policy. On April 10, all Members of Parliament, except one, voted in favour of the law. The Guardian has pointed out that New Zealand’s government response to the Christchurch shootings was the fastest in history.
This swift passage of the new gun law was a deliberate strategy on the part of Prime Minister Ardern. Previous attempts to reform New Zealand arms control regulations failed. Strong resistance from New Zealand’s rural population had earlier deterred politicians, including members of the left-leaning Labor Party, from enacting decisive arms’ control measures. Most notably, in 2016, Labor’s police spokesperson supported watered down measures to limit the circulation of firearms. After the Christchurch shootings, however, a change in public attitude triggered a change in politicians’ positions. Prime Minister Ardern took advantage of this momentum in public support to prevent pro-gun advocacy groups from organizing against the new law.
Ardern swift action seem to have paid off. According to a recent poll, the incumbent Prime Minister has an approval rate of 51 per cent – her highest approval rate since assuming office in 2017.
In the United States, prominent democratic leaders praised New Zealand’s swift action. But, enacting similar policies in the U.S. might be difficult. While the majority of the American public supports stricter gun regulations, the National Rifle Association has been able to take advantage of a fragmented political system, in which party leaders do not have strong control over their caucus members. In New Zealand, however, there is a strong party discipline, which allows party leaders to impose their will on Members of Parliament.