After the Christchurch massacre, there’s a rightful focus on the prevalence and public access to ‘semi-automatic military-style’ guns. It takes a crisis to create change but with the loopholes in our gun laws, and in light of previous governments’ missed opportunities and the current government’s previous plans to centralise gun registration inspections, in fact, reform is overdue. Shame it took a massacre to force this change.
The country’s biggest militaria show, in Kumeu, was cancelled after the Christchurch massacre when organisers recognised that it would be inappropriate to proceed with a show highlighting weapons of violence. Even the pop-culture convention Armageddon, has brought in new rules which ban military-style clothing and replica guns for its upcoming event in Wellington. We’re forced to reconsider everyday guns and violence in our community. The social ‘licence to kill’ has been revoked.
But we should look beyond pop culture, to state culture, and beyond replica and military-style weaponry, to real military weapons too, as we seek to inspect our relationships with gun violence.
At the New Zealand Defence Industry Association Forums held in Wellington, Auckland and Palmerston North over the past three years, protestors from the peace movement have been pushed and shoved and manhandled by the police; Protestors who opposed the ‘obscene showcasing of weapons in our community’ were arrested; Conference delegates vying for defence contracts by showing off their wares – ‘profiteers on militarism, war and human suffering’, were sheltered by police barriers and barricades at an estimated cost of $250,000 per event. The Palmerston North Mayor said about last year’s conference, that ‘there was nothing unethical going on’, but the protestors were right.
Guns are designed to kill. And none more so than actual military weapons. The New Zealand army military budget incurred a 9% increase from 2017 to 2018, to over $72million a week, or almost $4billion for the financial year. The army have been practicing with their 9,050 new MARS – L NATO standard battle rifles, bought for $6500 each. These can shoot to a distance of 600m, contain laser day and night optical sights, have a detachable grenade launcher and sound suppressors. They are additional to the army arsenal which also contains Glocks, marksman rifles, tactical shotguns, machine guns capable of shooting 750-1000 rounds per minute, heavy machine guns, mortars, anti-armour weapons, short range grenade machine guns and light mortar “designed for firing high explosive, smoke, incendiary and illuminating bombs”. That’s a lot of firepower, designed to kill people.
Thanks to Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, we know that the New Zealand army does kill people too.
They certainly have huge capacity to kill more.
While we focus on guns in the hands of the public, let’s not stop there. Now’s the time we should also look at the guns in the hands of the state. The Government would do well to consider the story of the upcoming film ‘Soldiers without Guns’. According to movie trailers and interviews, after ten years of civil war, which killed twenty thousand people and destroyed communities and livelihoods, and after fourteen failed attempts, the New Zealand Defence Force finally brokered peace with guitars and kapa haka. By entering the conflict zone, unarmed, attempting to understand causes of the dispute and to find common cultural ground, guitars, song and performance, brokered understanding and peace, where guns could not.
Waging peace, not war. Cultural diplomacy. Using guitars not guns. Imagine that as a broader foreign policy strategy, and military tactic. It would be more cost effective, show a genuine commitment to peace at home and abroad, take a lot of guns out of society, demonstrate consistent public and state practice, and even save lives. More money for community building and less for killing people has to be a more sustainable future. It should certainly lead to fewer refugees.
A deep commitment to a more peaceful society would see an end to arms conferences, and for any protestors at any future events, given a respected voice, a medal for heroism, not a prison cell.