Accuracy in Media

A theme ran through the coverage of the decision by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to ban the weapons associated with the deadly attacks on two mosques in Christchurch last Friday:  Why can’t we do that here?

The Washington Post put it in the headline: “New Zealand just banned military-style firearms. Here’s why the U.S. can’t,” it read atop a story by Rick Noack and Shibani Mahtani.

On the front page of the New York Times website, its coverage was teased: “New Zealand Announces Ban on Weapons Used in Massacre That Killed 50.” An explainer paragraph read: “The country’s plan, which comes six days after attacks on two mosques, stands in contrast to the resistance to similar calls for restrictions in the U.S.”

The first paragraph of the Post story reported that the changes had been announced within 24 hours of the attacks, that the attacker was a “right-wing terrorist” and that it was “military-style semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles” that were being banned.

The second paragraph took a shot at Americans who express sympathy on such occasions. “To U.S. observers in particular, the almost immediate response might have appeared surprising for a country that shares more similarities in its approach to guns with the United States than with the rest of the Western world,” Noack and Mahtani wrote. “On social media, some ironically remarked earlier this week that New Zealand had not even tried ‘thoughts and prayers’ yet.”

The Post did not say what was ironic about the remark, although it did inform readers that, “used to express condolences, that term to many Americans now also stands for the chronic policy inaction of U.S. politicians following mass shootings.” It did not suggest why politicians would be forced to act on such occasions.

We’re here – New Zealand reeling from a firearms attack and the United States still steadfastly refusing to dismantle the Second Amendment – because “both [countries] have strong gun lobbies that have stalled previous attempts to rein in gun owners’ liberties.”

It then quotes the leader of a gun control group saying, “’In New Zealand, the gun lobby dictates policy to the government. They are listened to far too acutely by the government, and they have managed to water down every single attempt at improving the gun laws. The gun lobby is directly responsible for having defeated the amendments that could have prevented this crime.’”

The writers then draw the conclusions: “Sound familiar? New Zealand’s gun lobby shares many of its goals with America’s National Rifle Association, the world’s biggest gun lobby organization, which supports aligned politicians financially and uses social media to attack its opponents.”

The problem, according to the Post, is how our government is set up. In New Zealand, 86 percent of the people live in urban areas and “form a largely liberal majority,” Noack and Mahtani wrote. The ratio is “slightly lower” – it’s 80 percent, according to the Census Bureau.

“More importantly, the U.S. system of representation and the way congressional districts are drawn increase the significance of rural Republican voters disproportionately” and the way the Senate is set up – with “extraordinary power to rural states over urban states” with deference to states’ rights, “makes it difficult to advance relatively modest gun-control measures, much less sweeping measures,’” the Post wrote, quoting a gun control advocate.

The New Zealand prime minister also is far less likely to face court challenges “than politicians would in the United States, where the Second Amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court as giving individuals the right to own guns. Those legal hurdles have been exacerbated by a gun lobby that has conveyed a perception that tighter laws are by definition a violation of the Second Amendment.”

It concluded: “Whereas New Zealand’s prime minister was able to say, ‘Our gun laws will change,’ without having to fear her government would fall apart, the response after the next U.S. mass shooting will continue to be: Our gun laws won’t change, but we can definitely offer thoughts and prayers.”

Photo by jotulloch

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