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New Zealand's Darkest Day
It has taken me a little while to pen this, partly because this is a difficult subject to comprehend, partly because it's been difficult to find the time alone to sit compile my thoughts.
This isn't the sort of subject that I would normally discuss, in fact, historically I have shied away from commenting on anything of the sort. Mostly out of fear of weighing in on something so sensitive, without any authority or personal connection, or perhaps not possessing the right language tools to convey the emotions or compassion needed at a time of grief. I feel that has changed however, as I imagine it would have for many New Zealanders over the past weekend. This has happened to our home, to our friends, and to our families.
My deepest sympathy, empathy and regrets are with the victims and their families. None of this is fair. None of this is justified. None of this belongs here (not just in New Zealand, but on this planet).
As a nation, we're all close enough to it that we know someone involved or are only ever a single degree of separation away from someone that is mourning.
It hits close to home and it hits hard for everyone, especially so for those with family in Christchurch or a strong personal connection to the area for whatever reason.
I have no doubt that it hits hard for any practitioners of the Muslim faith, who must also feel a deep sense of loss, betrayal and hurt. While not particularly religious myself, I was bought up around religion and know that there is a strong bond within the communities of any faith (something that everyone can admire).
The response of our nation is what truly makes me feel proud to call myself a New Zealander. We have an ingrained sense of what is right and for something so wrong to happen in our land brings out the strong resolve that dwells within the Kiwi spirit. The immediate, world-wide response in a time like this helps restore a faith in humanity that would otherwise be destroyed in an instant with such a despicable act.
Coming from a military family, I've always held a high regard for the people that are tasked with cultivating the day-to-day safety of our country.
As such, I believe the NZ Police deserve the utmost praise for their handling of the situation. Regardless of your personal feelings towards the institution, you must agree that the response time of 6 minutes to the scene and an arrest shortly after 30 minutes is purely commendable.
The professionalism and respect for the community was evident in the early press releases and a distinct sense of transparency showed they were aware some serious questions were going to be raised in the coming days, but the immediate focus was the safety of New Zealand as a whole (rather than attempting to plant the seeds of self-preservation).
Yes, unfortunately they were unable to stop the attacker before cruelly taking so many lives and it may be revealed in the coming weeks that there was possibly something that could have been done to prevent this from ever happening – but it is important to remember: it is all too easy to tear down their efforts in hindsight. Instead, the mistake here would be to not learn from this, if there is something that could have been done: make sure it becomes part of regular routine to check for the signs.
The efforts of the St. John Ambulance service should also be mentioned – without them on scene, this whole ordeal could have played out a lot differently. As I personally have needed their service before, I plan on donating to the St. John charity again (alongside the inevitable victim support donations my wife and I have discussed).
Alongside the paramedics, Christchurch Hospital should be honoured for their crisis management and swift action to prevent any more tragedy. While there are obviously enough beds for a hospital to accommodate such an influx, it's another story to have so many acute cases arrive at once – not least since they would likely all have required the expertise of a certain type, something not many hospitals would be equipped for, anywhere in the world.
Finally, I think our dear PM, Jacinda Ardern deserves the unequivocal support of our entire nation. She was a symbol of our resilience, rock-solid in her conviction and unwavering in the shadow of a formidable situation.
Her agility to condemn this act as a hate crime and to declare this an attack against all New Zealand is something to behold. "They are us" are words that will stick with the world for a long time to come and hopefully embed them into the ethos of everyday humanity.
While the world stood-by speculating exactly how this will be labelled because of the race of the gunman, she hastily instilled the sense of unity and integration that belies the Kiwi nature and identified this barbaric act as terrorism.
When the question of how these weapons were made available in the first place, she was quick to address the need for reform.
As the nation started to realize the magnitude of the event, she remained strong and composed, delivering the information needed, as it came to light.
Her initial delivery of the first numbers that were coming in, came as a complete shock, as if I might have mis-heard, or there was some sort of morbid mistake – her dissemination of the facts made me quickly realize that this was a truly horrific day for New Zealand.
At the end of it all, once the initial crisis had faded away into grief and mourning, she was quick to fall into the role of our compassionate leader: a comforting voice in a haze of darkness.
I truly believe that Jacinda is someone the world could look up to and learn from – there was none of the hesitation to please the "good folks on both sides" (of course referring to an infamous event in recent history where a particular U.S. leader with small hands appeared to support what can only be described as pure ignorant evil).
Support for Firearms Reform
I completely support any changes to our gun laws that make this a safer place to live. I also entirely reject the notion that there is a place for semi-automatic weapons in New Zealand, even though there's already been lobbying towards keeping them.
I recognize that there is a need for guns at some level in New Zealand for practical purposes: I myself have been raised around guns on a farm and for hunting, as well as the proper respect they're owed, and how to handle them safely.
I've also been around a few gun clubs, including when my mother frequented one when we lived in Christchurch and I know a little about the competitive "sport" angle.
Basically, New Zealand gun culture typically falls into two categories – the farmers / hunters, and the gun club enthusiasts. With this in mind, I think it would be within New Zealand's best interests to make one large overhaul: a complete public ban on any gun that carries multiple rounds.
The allowance for ownership of a single round, bolt-action rifle serves the practical needs of gun ownership.
This allows for farm / home-kill to continue: you typically only slaughter cattle one at a time anyway, right?
For hunters, I've always considered semi-automatics as an overly excessive "cheat", if you rely on a machine gun to hit your target – you might just suck at hunting.
Finally, for gun clubs, you can still prove you're an expert marksman with a single shot – in fact it's more impressive to centre a target when it isn't a 'point and spray' affair. Taking the sport back to its roots of a calm, skill-based competition can be much more rewarding and might just be the right thing to re-invigorate the field. It may also help to bring back a level of respect for the weapons that we've clearly taken for granted.
Of course, going down this path precludes the option for personal hand-guns in New Zealand – which is perfectly fine by me. Concealed weapons are illegal here anyway and the only time pistols are to be used is at a gun range (carried in a lockbox).
If this attack wasn't carried out using semi-automatic weaponry, it could have been just as deadly with a pistol and the only difference in ownership is an endorsed license.
Some "pro-gun" Americans suggest after school shootings they should be arming teachers. They even tried to suggest Abdul Aziz was an 'armed bystander', proving why everyone should carry a gun. This is a complete fabrication, he mentioned in an interview that he picked up a gun that the attacker dropped. In fact, another report I saw suggested he ran at the gunman brandishing an EFTPOS terminal, so my message for the gun nuts in America is simple: Don't give your teachers guns, give them Credit Card machines and a little of Abdul's courage.
While we're at it, we might as well increase the age limit on firearms licenses. It seems a little daft that you can own and operate a deadly weapon, but you're not considered old enough to watch them being used on TV in a realistic manner (one that doesn't glorify the use of gun violence). The R18 Strong Violence rating is an example of this, R16 movies tend to have that slightly animated feel: if we feel like we need to protect our children from these sorts of movies, why can't this extend to guns?
Where to from here?
It's important that we don't lose sight of what makes New Zealand special.
This will endure in our minds for time to come, but it shouldn't stop us from doing the things that all Kiwis do.
We shouldn't need to fear walking to the supermarket, going to school and we sure as hell shouldn't be persecuted for practicing our religious beliefs. Whether or not we can ever feel that level of safety again remains to be seen.
The actions of the government in the next couple of weeks will likely help calm the population, but there will always be a lingering fear of a re-occurrence that we will need to learn to shake together.
Unfortunately, as I wrap this up, reports of more deaths in a mass shooting in the Netherlands have surfaced.
Humanity still has a long way to go.