Christchurch

Trigger warning: this is likely going to make you angry, or sad, or sadmad, or more. OTOH I’m going to make the points I’ve got to make in a short and pointed fashion and you, dear reader, can go look up supporting or refuting documentation as you feel appropriate.

Christchurch recently suffered NZ’s largest modern mass murder. I say modern because and also.

This is the third time I’ve been “close” to murder. Once was the Aramoana massacre, where I lived roughly halfway between the city and Aramoana itself – the helicopter flight path was right overhead; once was moving to Sydney and on the very first day after I arrived taking the train into the city from a train station bathed in blood. (With a helpful sign informing us that the police were seeking information that could lead to an arrest). And last Friday was Christchurch. And this is why I have put “close” in quotes: close enough to be viscerally affected, but not directly affected: none of the folk that died were personally known to me in any of these cases. I have had people I know die and thats a whole different level. There are plenty of people writing from that perspective, and you should go and listen to them. I have, and am, and have friends in that set, who need all the support they can get at the moment.

And that is why I’m a little conflicted about writing this post. Because this tragedy is all the more tragic because of our failures leading up to it.

What failures you might ask? Ours as citizens, or our bureaucracies? Or governments?

Lets look at this from a “Law & Order” perspective – means, motive, opportunity. The opportunity is something I think we should be proud of: folk being able to do what they want to do, inviting people they don’t know into their mosque, without fear. But means and motive…

Means

Means first. I wish I could say “I’m not going to engage in the nonsense debates about whether the sort of weapon the shooter had should be available for private citizen use or not.” But actually, I have to. Australia has ongoing problems with violence, and regulated guns heavily back in 1996. Since then, massacres have stopped being a thing in Australia. Prior to that, massacres were happening on a regular basis. This doesn’t deny the truth that the same machines can be used to shoot rabbits, but the evidence seems to be that they are too easily abused and there are many less over the top alternatives for the farm use case to be a compelling tradeoff.

Would the attacker have been able to carry out the attack without semi-automatic rifles? Sure. But with less ammunition per clip, less accuracy per shot, less damage per shot.

Here’s the sad bit though. We tightened our gun laws after Aramoana in 1990. We didn’t tighten them again after Port Arthur. We didn’t tighten them again after Sandy Hook. Or any of the other mass murders overseas using military weapons. We have had decades of inaction while the evidence of the potential harms increased. Late last year Stuff published this article – which is actually good reporting! I quote:

It is a very sad fact that changes to gun regulation only come about in the wake of a tragedy: Aramoana, Port Arthur, the Dunblane massacre.

Since 1992, politicians have backed nervously away.

50 people died on Friday in large part because the murderer had access to effective means for mass murder, which we knewwas effective, which our Police knew was effective, and which we spent political capital on other complete BS (Look up political scandals in NZ – I don’t have the heart to enumerate them right now).

Jacinda’s leadership right now consists of executing on a thing we’ve had queued up as necessary for – at the least – decades. It is an indictment on all of us here in NZ that 50 people had to die to get this done. I’m very sadmad right now. I don’t feel like I could have driven the debate in the right direction, but our leaders surely could have. And none of them are owning this.

Motive

It’s tempting to write the murderer off as being a bad human, or badly raised, or insane. But the reality as I understand it is that there were many signs of his intolerant violent views, that he doesn’t have a obvious mental disorder, and his violence was targeted: he’s not just plain evil and out to kill everyone…

In NZ at least we consider both intolerance and violence antisocial: we expect tolerance and peaceful discussion with each other as baseline characteristics of human beings.

And again, this is a thing we’ve seen before overseas. We’ve seen many murders done on the basis of violent intolerant ideology, but we haven’t actually adapted here to deal with it.

How are we, at a systemic level, engaging with the problem and addressing it. How do we help folk become tolerant? How do we give them other tools than violence? And if they are truely unable to use other tools, and unable to become tolerant, how do we safeguard ourselves?

But its worse: listening to my Māori compatriots NZ is pretty racist, *at a minimum* structurally, with many more Māori in prison, and presumably wage inequality and other “invisible” discriminations. Not much point asking everyone to be super tolerant and friendly with each other if we’re not giving each other a fair go.

We do pretty great in how we bring up kids in early childhood and primary school, from what I can tell with my daughter’s school, but I have no idea about higher schooling these days, and what do we do for adults and immigrants? Science says that most immigrants are motivated flexible people (self selecting group), but for the tiny tiny number that aren’t: how do we help them?

Personally I think wealth inequality goes a long way towards sustaining discrimination – anyone thinking of the world as a zero-sum game is much more likely to be hellbent on keeping other folk down to keep themselves up – and I very much want to see that change in NZ: I’d like to see us introduce a UBI, get rid of the means testing on various social supports (like the dole), and generally toss away the neoliberal narrative that has poisoned us for 30 odd years.

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