Bernie Sanders urges US to follow New Zealand's lead in banning assault weapons: 'This is what real action looks like'

Andrew Buncombe

Bernie Sanders has urged America to follow the lead of New Zealand in banning military style and semi-automatic weapons – a measure taken by the authorities in Wellington within days of the mosque shooting that left 50 people dead.

The Vermont senator, one of the early frontrunners of Democrats contesting for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination, said New Zealand had set an example with the speed of its response.

“This is what real action to stop gun violence looks like,” he said on Twitter. “We must follow New Zealand’s lead, take on the NRA and ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons in the United States.”

On Thursday, the government of New Zealand announced a ban on military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. The move by the administration of prime minister Jacinda Ardern, came just a week after the mosque attack, allegedly carried out by a white supremacist, and which rocked the small nation.

The Associated Press said an immediate sales ban went into effect to prevent stockpiling, and that new laws were to be rushed through parliament that would impose a complete ban on the weapons.

“Every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned,” said Ms Ardern. The prohibition included semi-automatic guns or shotguns that can be used with a detachable magazine that holds more than five rounds.

It also applies to accessories used to convert guns into what the government called “military-style” weapons, the news agency said.

The rapid action by New Zealand has been seen in stark contrast to faltering efforts to ban such weapons in the US, where up to 35,000 died from guns in 2017. Activists had long pointed to the lobbying power of the gun industry group the National Rifle Association (NRA), which Mr Sanders referred to in his tweet.

The group spends millions of dollars backing politicians who support its policies and threaten to fund challengers to those who do not fall into line. Figures show that in the 2016 election cycle, the NRA spent $55m on campaigns and adverts supporting candidates.

By far the largest portion of that money, around $30m, went to backing the campaign of Donald Trump.

The NRA did not immediately respond to enquiries on Thursday. A banner on its website claimed “Nancy Pelosi wants a national emergency to confiscate your guns in 2020”.

Mr Sanders is not the only person to have seized on the example set by New Zealand. Kris Brown, president of the Brady campaign, which has long sought to regulate weapons in the US, said: “This is a shining example of what can happen when our leaders take action, not sides.

“Prime Minister Ardern and her cabinet wasted no time in ensuring that the tragedy in Christchurch will not be repeated in their country, and they are providing a light for the world to follow.”

She added: “Now, it’s time for our own leaders at home to do the same.”

March For Our Lives, the student-led group founded in the aftermath of the February 2018 Parkland school shooting, also spoke out over what happened in New Zealand.

“No community on earth should have to experience the intense loss that comes from gun violence,” the group said, saying that it was helping to raise funds for the community in Christchurch.

“When hate tries to divide us, we will always respond with compassion and unity.”