Lessons to be learned from tragedy | The Jackal

16 Dec 2012

Lessons to be learned from tragedy

Today, the NZ Herald reported:

A visiting American professor says the latest mass shooting should give New Zealanders confidence they have got gun laws right.

Gregory Luke Larkin, a world-renowned expert in injury prevention from Connecticut's Yale University, who has treated gunshot victims in his home town, said: "In the wake of this latest tragedy in an American school, I must register my shame as an ex-patriot American."

Larkin, the Lion's Chair and Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Auckland as well as a keen hunter, said he hoped the latest tragedy would spark gun law reform in the United States.

"I would like to congratulate New Zealand policymakers and citizens who can be proud of learning the hard won lessons from Aramoana.

Larkin appears to not know what he's talking about. A few years after Aromoana, the Minister of Police commissioned another independent report into New Zealand's gun laws.

In 1997, the Thorp report (PDF) concluded:

1. That the Arms Act 1983 and its subsequent amendments do not provide an effective code for the control of firearms in New Zealand, and in particular:
a) that the 1992 Amendment has received a low level of general compliance by the public, from which it follows
b) that the Police have not “been able to adequately enforce compliance”.

2. That there is a need for radical reform of the firearms laws. This is most likely to be achieved by a staged programme of reform, managed by an Authority not affected by conflicting interests and loyalties, in the manner outlined in this report.

However after extensive pressure by the gun lobby, consecutive New Zealand governments have largely failed to implement any of the Thorp reports recommendations, meaning that our gun laws are still inadequate. That fact seems to have escaped Larkin's awareness.

"America, however, stands proud in her resolve to avoid the facts, ignoring both logic and hard data. While many people can handle guns safely, the few who cannot must give us pause.

"New Zealand gets it, that there must be rules on how firearms are handled, registered, stored, and collected.

Most firearms don’t need to be registered in New Zealand, so clearly Larkin doesn't know what he's talking about. A lack of gun reform in this area is despite the Thorp report recommending:

That the present licensing system be replaced by a combined licensing/registration system based upon three-year firearm-specific licenses, the new system to be introduced over three years, commencing on 1 July 1999.

There's no doubt that the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting is a terrible tragedy, but comparing the United States' horrendous firearms crimes with New Zealands to try and justify the weak firearms laws here is entirely wrong!

Just because New Zealand has around a third of the firearm crimes per capita as the United States doesn't make those crimes acceptable in any way whatsoever. It also doesn't mean our firearms laws shouldn't be improved.

The NZ Herald also reported:

The deaths of 20 children in a devastating shooting rampage at an elementary school in Connecticut reignited the debate over gun laws that until now has yielded little change.

After the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Barack Obama appeared on television with tears in his eyes to make an emotional plea for "meaningful action" after the latest outrage.

"As a country we have been through this too many times," Obama said, mentioning earlier shooting massacres, in Colorado, Oregon and Wisconsin.

Let's hope the latest in a long line of deplorable gun crimes in the US will be the catalyst to them changing their gun laws.

But defenders of the Second Amendment insist that restrictions on the sale of semi-automatic weapons is not the solution.

"There's a good side of guns and you can't forget about either," said Alan Gottlieb, the head of the Second Amendment Foundation.

"There was nobody in that school who was allowed to have a firearm to protect themselves or those children. And I find that to be deplorable.

"I'm sure the person who committed this horrible act knew he could go in and do it because no one else could have a gun.

The gun lobbyists are obviously completely nuts. Surely it's better to have laws in place that don't allow guns to fall into the wrong hands in the first place. A proper storage safe along with other required reforms might have ensured this latest tragedy didn't occur.

Saying that staff at schools should be armed in case a nutter turns up all guns blazing so they can have a shoot out is just stupid. What if there are no adults available and what about the students who will get caught in the crossfire? Perhaps the gun lobbyists are arguing that children should be armed so they can defend themselves? Ridiculous! The best solution is to inhibit the ability of people with psychological problems from attaining firearms in the first place.

There's no question that the gun laws in the US need major reforms, and it just so happens that the firearms laws in New Zealand need strengthening as well.