Looking to recent events in Christchurch, it’s easy to think that New Zealand law has failed to protect the victims of that senseless tragedy. As much as we Australians like to believe our relatively strict gun laws will protect us from another Port Arthur, we have said it before and the fact remains – gun laws do not prevent a determined individual from acquiring enough of any type of firearm to permit, in theory, mass shootings.
It seems clear that in the New Zealand context, there are many improvements to be made in their firearms licensing laws. New Zealand may well take its lead from the 1996 Australian reforms and in some respects go beyond the protections offered in the Australian context.
So, following enactment of these new laws, if similar events are ever repeated in New Zealand, or Australia for that matter, will it mean the approach has been unsuccessful – that the law has fundamentally failed to protect?
Perhaps there are other factors, equally significant, at play.
Commentary has made much of the role of social media in the New Zealand events. The effect seems to be two-fold: constant exposure to tragedy thereby increasing apathy and decreasing the impetus for change; and, the purveyors of hate crimes having access to a wider and increasingly disenfranchised audience.
As a potential example of over-exposure and apathy, by the time Facebook removed the 17 minute video, it had been viewed roughly 4,000 times, the company said. Apparently not a single user who saw the video during the live broadcast reported it during that time. The first report was 12 minutes after the live broadcast was over – by the New Zealand police.
Looking to audience access, the New Zealand Prime Minister concedes that ideas and language of division have existed for decades, “but the form of distribution, the tools of organization – they are new” she states. “We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published.”
Regardless of whether countries such as Australia and New Zealand avoid headline gun violence in the future, we should consider whether firearms control is the only role that the law has to play – both in shaping the information and cultures of today and avoiding the tragedies of tomorrow.
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