Joseph Perkins | @counter_econ
In the wake of national tragedies, governments tend to take action without thinking about the future consequences of those actions or whether they would be effective in stopping a future, similar tragedy. For example, the United States passed the PATRIOT Act in the wake of 9/11 which was a direct assault on all American citizens’ Fourth Amendment right to privacy. Since implementation, multiple studies have shown it was useless in stopping future terrorist attacks.
Instead of thinking through policies that could help stop these types of tragedies in the future, New Zealand is acting no differently from other countries in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings that occurred on Friday.
A Semi-Automatic Gun Ban
Immediately after the mosque shootings, the New Zealand Attorney General announced that the government will push for a ban on all semi-automatic weapons. There is, of course, no proof that a ban on a certain type of weapon will stop a terrorist attack. France tragically learned this in 2015, when a group of Islamic terrorists killed 130 people with illegal guns.
Also, one must consider how safe New Zealand is relative to the number of gun owners in the country. Despite a relatively high rate of gun ownership compared to many other “westernized” countries, New Zealand had just eight gun-related homicides in 2015. Mass shootings are also extremely rare in the country.
The gunman did obtain his weapons legally in New Zealand after going through a long and arduous process that included multiple background checks, character references, and even a gun safety course. In fact, New Zealand currently has most of the gun control laws that advocates want in the United States short of an outright “assault weapons” ban. Still, they did not stop this shooting.
The only people this ban on semi-automatic guns hurts is law-abiding gun owners. If just one law-abiding citizen had been armed in or around the first mosque the gunman attacked, they could have saved numerous lives or even prevented the attack from happening at all. Instead, they had to wait for the police to arrive, which took 36 minutes.
Censorship in New Zealand
In the wake of the shooting, the official New Zealand police Twitter account warned that sharing the video of the mosque shootings, which was live-streamed on Facebook Live, would be punishable by imprisonment by up ten years. They followed through on this threat when they arrested a 22-year-old man for sharing the video.
To criminalize the distribution of a video that a government finds “objectionable” sets a dangerous precedent. What if one is possession of a video of their country’s military committing a war crime? Or what if they happen to film a law enforcement officer committing an act of police brutality? If a government found these videos “objectionable”, would they ban people from sharing them?
Likely to fall in line with the New Zealand government, internet service providers (ISPs) have begun censoring websites that refuse to scrub the video of the killings and the killer’s manifesto from their websites. ISPs act as gatekeepers to the internet. The fact that they can and will censor content at the direction of a government should give one great concern. If damaging content about the government surfaced, how could we trust them not to do the same?
The Streisand Effect
Typically, attempted censorship on the internet only leads to the Streisand Effect. This phenomenon explains that censoring or hiding internet content only leads to even more people sharing it. In the aftermath of the mosque shootings, many have clamored for ISPs to block websites such as 4chan and 8chan because they believe these types of websites are radicalizing people. What they do not realize is that attempts to censor hate speech do not make it disappear. It would only push it further underground and make it harder for law enforcement to identify potential threats.
Despite being part of the Five Eyes alliance, which constitute the most surveilled countries on Earth, this mass shooter still slipped through the cracks just as the San Bernardino terrorists and Boston Bombers did in the United States. It is highly unlikely that banning semi-automatic weapons or censoring “objectionable content” will stop a future attack. Countries need to stop reacting in a knee-jerk way to tragedies and infringing on their citizens’ rights. Instead, they must begin taking their time to craft effective policy.
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