In a referendum that came out 119 to 1, New Zealand moved this week to ban certain assault-style weapons in the aftermath of the deadly mosque attacks there last month.
The vote should serve as a reminder that in countries where a constitution does not secure rights, governments will take away any rights they can after a tragedy.
The lone person to vote against the bill, David Seymour, leader of the ACT party, said the law was “not an attempt to improve public safety” but “an exercise in political theatre.” He did not oppose the overall measures in the bill, but was upset that the process to pass legislation, which is generally around six months, was expedited to ram through the law.
Seymour is right. The legislation is political theater. The United States experienced similar issues after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the advent of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which it turns out, is just security theater.
The New Zealand law outlaws guns like the AR-15, according to the BBC. They further reported:
The new rules make changes to 1983 gun laws which have been the subject of several reform attempts. They prohibit military-style semi-automatic weapons and parts that can be used to assemble prohibited firearms. Those breaking the new laws will face between two and ten years in jail. An amnesty will be in place until the end of September.
We know their assault weapon ban will not accomplish anything because the same type of prohibition in the United States accomplished very little, according to a Department of Justice-funded report. And when social scientists broaden their research out to any gun control, they universally find that those laws do not work.
So while it is incredibly tragic what happened in Christchurch, New Zealand, the government there is engaging in pure political theater that does nothing but destroys the rights of law-abiding citizens.
The theater will not stop terrorist attacks. Only a few days ago, American authorities arrested a Maryland man for plotting a terrorist attack using a rental truck. He intended to plow through a crowd of tourists because they were not Muslim.
That plot was similar to a June 2016 terrorist attack in Nice, France, where a man killed more than 80 people driving a truck through holiday crowds.
You cannot legislate away people who want to commit terrorist attacks. We live in an age where it is easy to commit mass murder. The tools and knowledge can be easily obtained by anyone.
Watching another country restrict rights hastily makes me even more grateful for the written Constitution in the United States. By writing rights down and holding other branches of government accountable to the Constitution, the Founders created a system that does a far better job of protecting rights than any other.
Indeed, there’s a difference between a written versus an unwritten constitution. In the United States, our Constitution is set in stone, hard to amend, and sets a general playing field for everyone. In places like the United Kingdom and New Zealand, constitutional monarchies with parliaments, everything and anything can be changed by the parliament.
What we’re increasingly learning in countries like these — which lack a written constitution and instead legislate based on established norms traditions — is that when tragedies strike and challenge those very traditions, standards, or statutes on protecting rights, all logic goes out the window. The governments move to restrict liberty in the name of sham security.
In the United Kingdom, where guns were banned years ago, politicians have now moved to knife bans. These ideas should only be the topics of satire or parody, but in states where gun control is rampant, knife control soon follows.
The result of these tragedies is an ever-shrinking set of rights and liberties. No one is guaranteed freedom in these countries.
Contrast this to the United States, where rights are established in the Constitution and are incredibly hard to amend. Constitutional law professor and scholar Akil Reed Amar points out this American style has led to greater liberty and equality over time:
American history from 1787 to the present has not always and unwaveringly moved in the direction of increased liberty and equality. Often the pattern had been x steps forward and y steps back — and sometimes y has been greater than x. Our laws have not invariably improved. Our culture has progressed and regressed, and our cases have ebbed and flowed. But our formal textual amendments have in fact almost invariably made amends. They have made our system consistently more equal and free and almost never less.
America would be in the same boat as New Zealand or the United Kingdom if it was not for the Constitution binding everyone together and securing rights and freedoms.
The Founders understood that the people had to give up some rights in order to form a government. As John Jay wrote in Federalist No. 2: “Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers.”
But they also understood that government could not be allowed to take over all rights of its citizens. The Constitution and Bill of Rights keep government aggression in check. And when watching New Zealand, I’m thankful for those checks on power in America.