At sea, the view of home from way Down Under

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Just today we stopped in Timaru, New Zealand, on the east coast of the southern island. I happened across the office of the Courier, the community newspaper of greater Timaru, population a few thousand. I got to chat with a reporter who said he supposed our president is better thought of in New Zealand than in the U.S. “People here love how he has reached out to the world,” he said. He also told me that the story of the Newtown shootings was widely and thoroughly covered by the New Zealand press.

Our gun problem is incomprehensible here. “Only hunters have guns here,” the reporter said. “You are not allowed to have a gun for personal use or protection … Our police do not carry guns.”

There is no “gun culture,” he added. “Why does your NRA have such enormous power over your elected officials?” Amen to that. The perspective from here makes clear just how unhealthy the relationship is between the NRA and the government.

Mass shootings are rare in other civilized countries. Here in Australia and New Zealand, guns are tightly controlled. And yet both countries have violent histories. Australia’s native people, the Aboriginals, were nearly wiped out by English explorers and colonists. In New Zealand there are no full-blooded Maoris surviving. They were killed by white settlers and by one another since they landed here some 600 years ago. It is thought that the Maori people originally came from Polynesia. Fierce warriors, they came in longboats, then attacked, imprisoned and cannibalized the native people who had settled here more than 1,000 years ago.

Today public life in both countries is peaceful and relatively nonviolent. America is different. The history of shootings is long and horrible and, sadly, recent: from the assassinations of President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Littleton and Virginia Tech and Aurora and Newtown and Aurora again, and on and on.

The perspective of distance and time makes me realize that gun slinging is endemic to America, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to change. To do nothing is to look the other way while another shooter gathers his ammunition and heads for the local school.
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