Written by Jamie Tarabay
They share a name, and both espouse a love of guns, but beyond that, the National Rifle Association in New Zealand has little in common with America’s most powerful gun advocacy group.
The New Zealand organization, which has no formal connection to the NRA in the United States, is the country’s governing body for the sport of long-range target shooting. It does not engage in the sort of political lobbying for which the American group has built such a fierce reputation. And that helps explain why the New Zealand group’s reaction to the massacre at two mosques in Christchurch last week has borne little resemblance to how the U.S. NRA has responded to recent mass shootings in the United States.
On Thursday, six days after the Christchurch attacks, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced a national ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons, on parts that allow guns to be modified into such weapons, and on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
In the United States, calls for far less sweeping gun restrictions have drawn immediate and overwhelming resistance from the NRA. In New Zealand, the local gun organization will not be among those pushing against the new bans. In fact, the sorts of military-style weapons being targeted are already unwelcome in the New Zealand organization.
“NRA N.Z. looks after long-range precision target shooting, up to 1,000 yards,” said the group’s chairman, Ross Mason. “There’s no service rifle or military rifle shooting within the discipline, as opposed to the NRA” in the United States, “which looks after all the disciplines and seems to be the political arm of the organization as well.”
The New Zealand organization has considered a name change to avoid being associated with the U.S. group. Perhaps the biggest difference between the United States and New Zealand when it comes to guns is the foundation of ownership in the first place, Mason said.
“It is treated as a privilege to have a firearm here, as opposed to it being a right in America,” he said.
In New Zealand, gun owners are subjected to rigorous background checks and requirements, though they are not required to register their weapons. In the United States, passing an instant background check is often all that is required for an adult to buy a firearm, although laws vary by state.
Even after acquiring a license, gun owners in New Zealand continue to be subjected to scrutiny from the authorities, Mason said. “If your name comes up with a police or traffic complaint, that list gets looked at by the police firearms division,” he said. “If it looks like your name is coming up more often, they’ll come and have a word with you.”
According to New Zealand police, there are about 250,000 gun owners among the population of about 5 million people, and they have an estimated 1.2 million to 1.5 million firearms.
The rate of gun ownership is higher in the United States, where an estimated 50 million households have firearms, and there are nearly 400 million guns in the country.