They banned most semi-automatic weapons.
It had only been days—days since 51 people were killed in two shootings at mosques in New Zealand, and the government announced a ban on most semi-automatic weapons. Months later the ban became permanent with only one lawmaker voting against it.
A buyback program began and police collected weapons while prohibiting firearm accessories at clubs and gun ranges with help from firearm dealers. Anyone who didn’t turn in their now-illegal weapons could face charges, fines, jail time. Citizens complied and an estimated 170,000 weapons were handed over.
I remember watching the press conference when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the new regulations in awe of what had been done in a matter of days since the attacks. A steady stream of tears fell down my face, forced from my eyes by gravity and the need to clear space for more to come. Each time I felt a tear reach the corner of my mouth, I quickly wiped it away, surprised by how fast they were coming and unsure of why they were there at all.
I sat with it, letting myself feel and process whatever it was that was welling up in me. It was joy, it was jealousy. It felt like abandonment, it felt like betrayal.
I am a shooting survivor, and to be a shooting survivor in America is to be retraumatized each time news of another shooting appears on the TV screen or the Twitter timeline. It is to be left to our own devices for healing, abandoned in our suffering, forced to accept that our shooting wouldn’t be the last— probably not even the last one that day.
Being a shooting survivor in America is to know that the initial wounding isn’t the last of the trauma. It reemerges when you realize that your experience, your pain, your suffering will be minimized and forgotten, leading only to apathy in preventing it from happening to someone else.
Being a shooting survivor in America is to hear the refrain “thoughts and prayers” time and again from people in power, knowing that will be the end of their duty to us. Empty words, spoken only for the purpose of checking a box on a list of post-tragedy obligations.
In the United States, mass shootings and daily gun violence are viewed as the price we pay for a right, with survivors and victims bearing every bit of the cost. It is unfathomable for us to consider what it would be like to live in a place that views such a cost as too high.
What does it look like to care?
As I watched the aftermath of the shootings in New Zealand, I wondered:
What is it like to live in a country that cares about you?
After two mass shootings, the country’s government said “enough is enough.” That was all it took for the prime minister to go beyond any action America has ever taken, put thoughts and prayers to action, and have the majority of the country’s leadership back her up. They saw the pain, the violence, the suffering of gun violence rippling out into the country and honored the pain with protective action.
It was a powerful charge to my soul to see someone who lacked the physical scars of gun violence resolve to carry the burdens it causes, using her power to do whatever she could to reduce the devastation reaped by guns and people who should not have them.
I have no idea what it is like to benefit from that kind of leadership; to have it directed at me, at where I live, and not thousands of miles away in a country of which I am not a citizen; to see my pain and my loss validated, not justified or minimized.
I have thought a lot about New Zealand’s response to those two devastating shootings, and why it affected me so much. It wasn’t the new laws or the buyback programs that twisted a knife in my soul—it was the unified response of a country that saw its citizens suffering and decided to do everything possible to make sure it didn’t happen to anyone else.
I don’t expect to ever have the same power or influence of a prime minister. I cannot singlehandedly pass laws or launch buyback programs. And thankfully, I don’t think that’s what God has asked me to do in my work. Rather, he has asked me to embody his love for my fellow survivors and the ones who will someday be part of this unfortunate club. I can listen, I can learn, and I can be the one who steps forward and says, “Enough is enough. I see you. This shouldn’t have happened to you. I am sorry.” And I can be the one to ask people to join me in creating a coalition of people who believe we should all share in the burden of suffering our neighbors carry.
We do not yet have leaders in the United States ready to take the steps like New Zealand, but I pray that we have people who are ready to stand in the gap.
Cover image by Natalia Sobolivska.