There’s an old saying in politics: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
It sounds cynical, but it needn’t be. If a genuine crisis is used to accomplish something that should have been done before, then the public good is being served.
Such was the case on Thursday, March 21 in New Zealand, where just a week after the tragic shooting deaths of 50 Muslim worshippers the government announced a ban on military-style firearms and high-capacity magazines.
It’s believed the perpetrator used weapons of that kind to wreak so much deadly havoc in such a short period of time.
But you don’t have to know exactly what kind of arms were used to devastate the mosques in Christchurch to know that no civilian needs to possess military-grade assault rifles designed specifically to maximize an attacker’s death toll.
The New Zealand ban will apply also to accessories used to convert other firearms into high-capacity military style weapons. But it won’t apply to most rifles and shotguns used by hunters and farmers in the largely rural country.
This is not about outlawing all guns; it’s about doing away with weapons that have no purpose but to mow down people in large numbers.
That it can be done so quickly in New Zealand while the United States, in particular, fails time after time to ban assault rifles despite dozens of mass shootings highlights differences in both constitutional order and political culture.
New Zealand, like Canada, has no Second Amendment-style “right to bear arms.” A majority government can take swift action if it chooses.
And New Zealand’s public opinion has been outraged by the Christchurch massacre, giving the government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern an opening to act decisively.
It’s to her credit that she has chosen to use the crisis presented by the shooting to get this done while the wounds, both literal and figurative, are still fresh. Failing to act would indeed be a tragic waste.