New Zealand’s loss of innocence by Trevor Plumbly

A time to learn

New Zealand is a special place, comfortably populated and insulated from tragedies that ethnic and religious radicalism can inflict, until, of course, the recent massacre in Christchurch.

By the time you read this, the initial shock will be fading and, as is the case in today’s world, there will be fresh horrors thrust at us from elsewhere. Laying aside the theoretical excursions of countless analysts, specialists and even the odd apologist, we owe the victims and our society a lot more than months of political pussyfooting. Hard decisions need to be made on the apparent ease of owning a firearm: 99% of gun licence applications are approved by the police and, having been approved, the owner can then go out and legally buy as many guns as he or she sees fit. An indication perhaps, that the macho gun culture still exists. It’s ironic that we shield our children from exposure to gratuitous violence, yet tolerate overgrown infants’ regular use of all manner of firearms under the umbrella of sport and recreation. Surely in this enlightened age we can make it clear that guns offer no purpose or value in broader society.

Let the punishment fit the crime

Any debate on this must be uncompromising; we’ve lost far too much to allow ethnic and religious sensitivities to cloud or delay the process. We can no longer hide in the comfort zones of geographical isolation and peaceful intent; the terrorist mantra, ‘anywhere, anytime’, like it or not, will become part of our thinking; ‘togetherness’ will form a major part of our response to that threat, but so should the imposition of punitive sentencing.

Over recent years, blame has become a bit of an old-fashioned concept, it’s become cosier for us to re-invent offenders as victims of one sort or another, but certain crimes go beyond that tolerance. I agree with the premise that you can’t stamp out hate, but let’s make it uncomfortable. Let’s start with gaol sentences for hate speech in any form, banning all semi-automatic weapons and severely limiting ownership of pistols and handguns, raising the cost of firearm licences to cover a psychiatric fitness test for new applicants and current owners and increasing minimum sentences for illegal ownership and/or use.  In answer to the obvious, I’m not a broad subscriber to the ‘throw away the key’ theory, but I do believe that some human animals are better locked ‘in there’ than roaming around ‘out here’.

Firm action to renew trust

The loss of innocent lives is too great a price to pay for our ‘she’ll be right’ attitude to gun ownership. Those responsible at all levels for ease of access to them need to be reminded that, by their actions or lack of them, our natural trust of each other could suffer. I’m not sure if we can ever recover that open acceptance, but our law makers must ensure that legal constraints regarding firearms are more meaningful and restrictive than they are at present, regardless of the ‘rights’ of a few latter-day cowboys.

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