The United States, Australia and New Zealand share a historical heritage of frontier adventurism — the kind that bred a familiarity with firearms as tools for putting food on the table, or later as a sporting pastime.
But the similarity ends abruptly when the evildoers of those societies use semi-automatic weapons to commit slaughter — as happened Friday in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a gunman killed 50 worshipers at two mosques.
In the wake of that horror, the New Zealand government moved rapidly to announce that by next Monday, it will unveil plans for tightening gun laws that could potentially include a ban on military-style rifles and require registration of all guns.
"As a Cabinet, we were absolutely unified and very clear," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday. "The time to act is now."
SECOND AMENDMENT FOUNDATION: Gun control laws don't deter madmen
A similar resolute response happened in Australia after a gunman killed 35 people in 1996 with a semi-automatic rifle on the island of Tasmania.
With the support of a conservative prime minister, Australia introduced gun licensing and registry, banned semi-automatic rifles, and enforced a firearm buyback that pulled 700,000 guns out of circulation. Gun-related suicides and homicides declined dramatically in the years that followed.
In the meantime, Americans have lived through a litany of similar events where assault-style rifles were used in massacres at a high school in Parkland, Florida; a Baptist church in Texas; an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut; a nightclub in Orlando; and a concert in Las Vegas.
With few exceptions, the default response by American politicians, particularly on the right, was to offer thoughts and prayers — but no meaningful action. Substantive gun reform — such as reinstating a ban on assault-style weapons that only seem useful for killing large numbers of people — remains out of reach in America.
Gun-control opponents argue that a fundamental difference between America and other nations is the Second Amendment right to bear arms. But as the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the 2008 Heller decision underscoring that right, it is "not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."
The true difference for America is a powerful gun lobby keeping politicians in check. There's a gun-rights lobby in New Zealand, albeit less powerful. And there are pro-gun politicians who are not immune to change.
"The reality is," said New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peter, a staunch opponent of gun control, "after 1 p.m. on the 15th of March (when the mosque shootings occurred), our world changed forever, and so will some of our laws."
That display of leadership in the face of tragedy reflects another reality: Without easy access to high-powered weapons and high-capacity magazines, people like the Christchurch gunman are far more likely to remain racist losers, rather than become mass murderers.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New Zealand attacks unite government on gun control. America stands divided.