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New Zealand free of fear induced by gun culture

In June 2018, my family left McMinnville for New Zealand.

Scott Schieber is a former 20-year resident of McMinnville, where he worked as a family physician and served on the school board. He has since moved his residence and medical practice to Gisborne, New Zealand, where he is living with his wife and youngest child. Gisborne is a coastal town famous for being the first place on earth to see the sunrise each morning. It is also known for great surfing, which is one of his favorite outdoor hobbies, the other being tree-climbing.

 

My wife and I were born and raised in the U.S. and had been making our home in McMinnville for more than two decades. The reasons for the move were many, but the desire to be in a safer culture was one of them.

Nine months after beginning our new life in New Zealand, though, an Australian white supremacist walked into a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and began gunning down Islamic worshipers. Ultimately, 51 people lost their lives in this racially motivated act of violence.

He was inspired by a white supremacist who used his car to mow down several people in Charlottesville, Virginia. He in turn inspired mass slayings at a Jewish synagogue in Poway, California, and a Walmart just across the Mexican border in El Paso, Texas.

Among the weapons used by the white male shooter in Christchurch were two AR-15 rifles, legally purchased in New Zealand and lawfully modified for increased firepower.

In the wake of the shooting, the New Zealand parliament swiftly passed a bill outlawing most automatic and semi-automatic weapons, along with the components needed to modify them for increased lethality. The vote was 119 to 1.

New Zealand is now proceeding with a voluntary buy-back program, authorized in the same legislation. In the first few weeks alone, more than 12,000 guns have been voluntarily turned in by New Zealand owners.

This rapid-action New Zealand response to a mass shooting stands in stark contrast to the “thoughts and prayers” inaction in the United States in confronting its ever-present cycle of gun violence.

Why is that? What is it about New Zealand that allows it to quickly enact sensible gun legislation, while in the United States, things seem so slow to change, despite strong public support for gun law reform?

There are some obvious reasons.

New Zealand has a population of 4.7 million subject to a centralized government. The United States has a population of 327 million subject to a broad array of state and federal laws.

In addition, gun ownership, for well-regulated militias or otherwise, is not a part of the governing documents in New Zealand, as it is in the U.S.

My experiences while living in both countries have pointed to other major and important contrasts between the United States and New Zealand as well, and they have helped enable New Zealand to quickly change its gun laws in the wake of the horrific Christcurch shooting.

GUN CULTURE

It is difficult to explain to non-Americans the significance guns have to so many in the U.S.

A 2017 Pew Research study showed 74% of American gun owners considered possession of a gun was essential to their sense of freedom. Half said it was important to their overall identity. And just look at the number of American social media profiles and posts that involve guns.

That sort of emotional attachment and social media posturing about guns is simply not seen in New Zealand.

Gun ownership in the U.S. is often associated with patriotism, a constitutionally mandated last defense against a tyrannical government, or the storied history of westward expansion driven in part by rugged cattlemen.

That psyche — perpetuated by media, political and corporate interests — has led many to believe any restriction on gun ownership or use constitutes an attack on the fundamentals of what it is to be an American. Never mind that owning a gun today isn’t really about any of those factors.

Contrast that to a country like New Zealand, a nation of avid hunters and rugged outdoorsmen and women. Here, guns are seen almost exclusively as tools for hunting and sport.

We have gun stores in our town and many hunting suppliers. I’ve dined on local venison shot by hunter friends.

Guns are not seen as part of any personal or patriotic identity. So pulling semi-automatic weapons from circulation didn’t threaten the vast majority of New Zealand gun owners or deprive them of weapons they need to continue their hunting and sport shooting.

 

PERSONAL PROTECTION

Perhaps the biggest U.S. myth of all has it that owning a gun will make you safer. The most often cited reason for gun ownership in the United States is, thus,  personal protection.

But while gun manufacturers and their lobbying organizations will frequently promote stories of armed Americans warding off violence, actual data and statistics tell exactly the opposite story. Guns are far more likely to cause injury to their owners than to protect them.

In an average month, 52 American women are shot to death by an intimate partner. In situations of domestic violence, access to a gun makes it five times more likely a woman will be killed. Overall, access to a gun doubles the risk of death by homicide and triples the likelihood of death by suicide.

As a practicing physician in McMinnville, I treated many gun injuries, both accidental and intentional. I had patients who died of suicide by firearm.

I counseled women who’d been shot or threatened by gun-owning partners. I also counseled people threatened by others with firearms, whose ubiquitous presence gives the U.S. the highest rate of accidental firearm death and injury.

I have not dealt with any of those issues in my practice in New Zealand. Perhaps that’s because New Zealand does not allow legal ownership of a gun for personal protection.

People here do not walk around with firearms, concealed or otherwise. The police don’t routinely carry firearms here either. That makes everyone safer.

 

FEAR

After the Christchurch shootings, our prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, stated: “Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.”

Contrast that respectful sentiment of inclusion with the fearful and incendiary words U.S. President Donald Trump uses to describe the presence of migrants, words like “invade” and “infest.”

A culture of fear permeates life in the United States. It is a vicious cycle fueled by right-wing and counter right-wing groups, each trying to incite fear in foes. And reaction to those fears, often violent in itself, stoke the flames of further fear.

Last month, an American Psychological Association poll indicated 79% of U.S. adults are stressed over the possibility of falling victim to a mass shooting. It indicated 24% had changed the way they live their lives due to a fear of mass shootings.

This fear creates a feeling of helplessness or impotence. And for many, the response is to take up arms, to become that “good guy with a gun” of popular myth. They talk of armed teachers posting armed guards at churches or malls. But this mentality serves to increase rather than decrease gun violence.

In New Zealand, we live outside this bubble of fear. We didn’t realize how insidious the effects were until we freed ourselves from them.

Children here don’t worry they might be shot in their places of learning. Adults here don’t worry they might experience gun violence upon visiting a mall or attending a concert.

New Zealanders want no part of America’s culture of fear. In fact, many refuse to travel to the U.S. when given the opportunity.

If relinquishing the ability to own a semi-automatic weapon is the price they have to pay for freedom from fear, the vast majority of New Zealanders are happy to comply.

Responsible gun ownership for those who desire it will always be a part of being an American. It is, for better or worse, part of longstanding American identity.

But living in a new country, one that does not glorify guns, one whose approach to gun ownership is sensible and safe, has shown me there’s a better way. If Americans are going to fully honor their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, they have to recognize the current approach to guns and gun violence represents a significant barrier to exercising those rights.

 

Comments

ElkChaser

Another anti 2nd Amendment piece brought to you by the News Register.

Mr Schieber after living in New Zealand for a little over a year seems to think he has very good understanding of New Zealand culture and people.

There may be as many as 240,000 firearms that fall under New Zealand's recent ban but only 12,000 have been voluntarily turned in. That suggests New Zealander's aren't happy about their Government's knee jerk ban and aren't complying.

But Mr Scheiber lives in a town that has a sporting goods store, ate a deer once, and doesn't like Donald Trump so I'm sure he knows best.

gregtompkins

I don’t know why I continue to waste my money on this subscription. Nothing but extreme leftist articles any more.

gregtompkins

Even had to throw in “migrants” into their stupid story. Migrants and illegal aliens are two different things why are the leftists so intent on destroying the national identity of the USA? They really don’t want the country to exist any longer so hey let’s flagrantly disregard the laws in place. Sounds like Hugo Chavez behavior!

Drew1951

Actually, I think Dr. Schieber knows a hell of a lot about New Zealand and its culture. He is a brilliant man, gifted physician and a devoted family man. We, as McMinnvillans, suffered a great loss when he left. I lost a trusted doctor. His beliefs are well thought out and based on extensive research. I am thankful he has the guts to compose such an essay and have it published in our paper.

Bob

Migration to New Zealand is extremely limited; few of us could qualify, let alone the people trying to force their way in at our border. The 2nd Amendment was designed to protect citizens from the government’s forced (e.g. “legal”) surrender and confiscation of their firearms. The Founders realized that a barrier to what The British attempted had to be met with an armed force; a militia. New Zealand deals with a fairly large land mass and a population comparable to Los Angeles. Subtract some of LA’s gang deaths and you have a similar murder rate in NZ. Lots of Liberal nonsense in the article!

Bill B

Last year Mr. Bagwell took offense to a comment that the News Register was turning to the left; noting that the publication's ownership had a history of conservatism. Have to say that the editorials of the past year have been very liberal in nature with only a handful of balanced ones and none that could be construed conservative. Mr Bladine has taken a more non-political approach in his opinions, yet he now decides to make a big deal about the president mistakenly including Alabama in danger of Dorian. That story was written to death by the news media days ago.

That said, I support the second amendment but there is no need for guns that are capable of mass killing in a very short period of time.

Jim

I got to know Dr. Schieber when dealing with the McMinnville School Board. He is a highly compassionate individual who is also highly intelligent. I admire both those traits. But as people that are far to the left or right there is one way and it’s their way. We have a School District in McMinnville that is shaped in this mold. Far thinkers to the left and their ideologies and what they have as ideals is the way everybody should live life. The Newsregister is really reaching with this article not unlike some of the articles another ex school board member writes. It makes me scratch my head to think what has become of this country. I think the media and people writing these kind of articles better take a lot harder look at the mental health of this nation and not blame guns every time something happens.

GrizzlyWildcat

Interesting & not unexpected comments.
This is Dr. Schieber (or "Mr" Schieber if you prefer ElkChaser).
Some background: I was asked by the paper to write something contrasting my current country to my former country's response to gun violence, so I did. I am not trying to push an agenda on my former neighbors. But the truth of the matter is, the US is an echo chamber with regards to views on guns, and perspective is generally never a bad thing. If you prefer to be an isolationist that's your privilege, but I don't think it serves you or the US well to do so. I tried to be very clear that the US view on guns & gun ownership is a part of who we are as a people, is a part of our constitution, & will always be a part of our identity. New Zealand is not intending to ban all guns, nor should the US.
But if your response to simply pointing out the realities on this issues, or to common-sense rules on gun ownership (universal background checks, red-flag laws, reserving high-capacity weapons only for law enforcement and military) is to double down and throw out tiresome tropes like "extreme leftist" and "liberal nonsense", do not expect this endless cycle of gun violence to change.

GrizzlyWildcat


My point in bringing up Trump and migrants is to show how, from the top down in government, you are being conditioned to be afraid.
Bob (above) is right in one respect: the restrictions on NZ immigration (must speak English, must have a job) if tried in the US would send the ACLU into a hissy fit. But it is not open borders that are responsible for gun deaths, or loss of any earning power for middle class, or our ridiculously expensive health care system.
But as long as politicians can keep you emotionally focused on The Wall as a solution to your problems, you won't notice that the trillion dollar tax cut helped the 1% political donors while you got squat. But, sure, paint me as bleeding heart liberal (I'm actually more of a libertarian) if it keeps you from confronting your biases.
And just one more note: an independent local paper is probably one of your best defenses against totalitarianism. You don't have to agree with everything it says or publishes (that's what comment sections are for). But ignoring or not supporting a free (meaning not controlled by a more centralized media), local, independent press is at your own peril.

gregtompkins

I’ve never personally had one and I would have qualms with having one. Mainly because of an ordeal I went through in 1993 my college dormmate at GFC murdered two people the summer before school started and he had the gun on campus. He told me what he had done and I went to the authorities. Now he’s in prison in Montana for 226 years. And then in 2008 I had a coworker at the call center in Beaverton who ended up being a genocidal war criminal from Bosnia she came to Oregon specifically because (in her words) Oregon is even better than Austria for the welfare! And after her six years in Bosnian prison came back to live here again because of sanctuary law. So I have strong feelings about our west coast sanctuary laws and guns. But I don’t agree in the leftist way let’s just be a nanny and take away everyone’s rights either. What’s next after everyone is disarmed? No checks against totalitarian overreach! People need to be responsible and follow our immigration laws. Let’s quit bending over backwards to lay the red carpet out to criminals from foreign countries.

Joel

Very interesting to hear (from Mr Schieber himself) that the NR solicited this far left "editorial".

GrizzlyWildcat

Maybe we should consider enacting sensible gun laws = "Far left editorial".
OK, sure Joel.
Cling to that world-view.
And I can already see the N-R left-wing conspiracy wheels turning in your head since they approached me about this.
It may LOOK like maybe a news source asked for a, let's call it "Viewpoint" on an important current topic from a former resident with a unique dual perspective, but you can see right through that, can't you?
No wonder reasoned discussion on this topic is so difficult.

ElkChaser

Dr Shieber, the problem with "common sense" gun laws are they gut the 2nd amendment and will continue to do so until we are like Britain where carrying a pocket knife is illegal.

Gun violence is senseless and tragic. Per the CDC 29 people die each day from drunk driving and another 241 die each day from alcohol related causes, not to mention the impact alcohol has on families. As a Doctor I imagine you've seen this first hand. Deaths from alcohol are more than double deaths from firearms. So why are we not calling for common sense alcohol laws? Are deaths from drunk driving and alcohol less senseless and tragic then deaths from firearms?

And I never threw out any "tiresome tropes", however I think people get the gist of where you are coming from.

RobsNewsRegister

The 2nd amendment isn't about hunting. It's about the ability of the citizenry to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. That was firmly in the minds of the founding fathers when they added the amendment. We have seen time and time again (the latest example is Venezuela) where the government disarms the populous and then runs rough-shod over their civil liberties.

Drew1951

The 2nd Amendment was composed in 1791. At that time, muskets and flint rock guns were the available weapons. Do people think if our founding fathers could have imagined AR 15s and AK 47s they would have been okay with those? Things have changed in 228 years. Let’s be reasonable when quoting the 2nd Amendment.

Jim

Drew1951 to use your analogy cars used to top out at about 55 mph. Now we have cars that do 150 mph. We have triple the people behind the wheel now than when cars went 55 mph. More people are killed in car wrecks by far than guns kill. Should we make cars do 55 mph again and limit the amount of miles you can drive in a year? It’s just another way for the left and government to control its citizens. Maybe the best thing we can do is get some discipline and morals back in our lives and figure out a way to help the mentally unstable.

Mike

I love cars as an example. Need a license, pass a test, your actions are monitored by police, if you drive impaired there are consequences. Yes. Maybe guns, at least, massive fire power military weapons. 100 round magazines, seems a bit much.

Jim

You bet Mike every driver on the road follows the rules. No one speeds, texts while driving, drives impaired, passes in a no passing zone, drives while talking on the phone etc. it’s way safer than guns. I think statistics prove otherwise.

gregtompkins

I don’t know why the Democrats think let’s have the state be your mommy and daddy will lead to Shanghai-LA society. The reason why we’re all screwed up is when they engineered this progressive “utopia.” It’s actually turning into a hell! No wonder people are so screwed up in the head. I blame the Democrats !

Drew1951

Jim: In my opinion, your analogy is lame. Our government did plan for increased numbers of cars and speed. It was called the Interstate Highway System which began in the mid 50s. I remember as a kid crossing Nebraska in the the mid 60s when the speed limit was 80 mph and the minimum was 40 mph. I agree the number of highway crash deaths is staggering but cite a case where a driver purposely caused an accident where 40, 50 or more people were slaughtered. Key word: purposely.

Jim

Drew1951 I’ll take my chances over getting killed by a gun any day of the week over getting killed by a car. And by the way not one time in any of my posts have I called anyone a derogatory name. What’s lame is this country getting rid of mental hospitals and not taking care of these mass shooters before something happens. I’ve owned guns since I was 7 years old and by my count that’s 61 years with responsible gun ownership with no one hurt. That’s because I was taught gun safety and respect for guns and other humans. That’s what is gone from this whole world is morals and respect.

gregtompkins

@Jim they really screwed up by closing them down. I have a lot of strange experiences. One time when I was living in downtown Portland and working at the power company I was going into my apartment. There was a homeless guy playing with little wooden toy trucks and he had a few cans of vegetables. And as people were walking by he was grabbing out at them. I thought UH OH this isn’t going to go well so I looked up and called the non emergency and the cops came and instead of “helping” him they instead beat him up! I felt so guilty that I thought I was trying to get someone help and instead caused them to get beat up. This country is in a mess.

Rotwang

Bill B, there is no "but" after "I support the Second Amendment." And, it's not the Bill of Needs.

Bill B

Well I guess that settles that! Rotwang has spoken.

Airman

Using the car analogy is a "red herring". Driving a car is a governmental privilege, not a constitutional right.

Tuvey

While I enjoyed your article I would like to find out more about the following.

How many of the gun wounds you treated here in McMinnville were from AR-15's? Had they been banned would your gun victims have been fewer in number?

Where are you getting your numbers about having more violence in places that are guarded by armed security or other personnel?

How many gangs does NZ have verses the US?

Given that the "migrants" that come to NZ must have a job and a place to live. How does that affect the way the population of NZ feels about them knowing that they are not people who have come to the island (surrounded by at least 400 miles of ocean) illegally, are not mostly uncounted, have not caused some of the crime, have not suffocated an already overwhelmed health system, have not come as "intruders" but are considered "refugees". I see a huge difference in the way outsiders are limited for the two countries.

You say that guns are not allowed for personal protection but for hunting. Are you saying that if someone breaks into a house that the hunter in that house will not protect himself (herself) with their hunting gun if necessary? And are you saying that someone with no protection will just be at the mercy of an intruder?

Finally, if the US were to implement a ban on assault rifles and to be honest my opinion is that most people really don't need to have one, do you really think that everyone would turn theirs in? Have all the AR-15 gun owners in NZ turned in theirs? Are we forcing the honest populace who do turn their guns in to bring a knife to a gun fight or should we be the ones hiding behind desks and school doors praying that we aren't shot instead of having a source of our own protection?

Tuvey

I think you're comparing apples to oranges and ignoring the obvious differences between an isolated society of 4.7 million verses 327 million. NZ has at least a 400 mile ocean trip from the nearest land and guarding an airport is much easier than having a land border. What does the NZ government do with those who land on their shores with intent to stay who do not have jobs and who did not ask permission?

madmacs

Why was the CDC banned from doing studies on gun violence, but not anything else? Why is the ATF required to keep their record system in an antiquated unsearchable system? If guns are just tool as so many argue, then why are The NRA and other organizations so afraid this information?

Stella

Gregtompkins

I cancelled my News Register subscription last week only to get a new little paper this week called "Yamhill Valley Views" and this article is the front page 😳

Finch

The last couple of years I have really debated about renewing. I only keep it to read online debate and actually hear from others what's going on in this county.

My boyfriend doesn't get the paper but he too gets that View paper in his mailbox and he's pissed. He's calling to cancel it.

gregtompkins

@Stella you want to see something scary? I worked with this one when I was living in Beaverton and working at the call center! I even developed a friendship with her outside of work. She and her Eastern European friends sure made damned good coffee. Imagine my shock when I saw her mug all over the local news : Rasema Handanovic. She bragged often about how easy it is to cheat the system here. I never knew she was a genocidal war criminal though! But for some reason the leftists demand we be inclusive and tolerant. They must really be stupid to think that all people are good and wonderful and are all wonderfully woven into the perfection of humanity.

RobsNewsRegister

Wow gregthompkins. I just read about Rasema Handanovic. She was part of a Muslim hit squad that lined up Croatian Christians and shot them in the back as part of a famous massacre.

https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-oregon-war-criminal-20180406-story.html

gregtompkins

@Robs yeah read up on the latest developments. She only went to Bosnian prison for a few years and now living in Oregon again. I’ve heard through friends of friends and friends of family that she specifically came to Oregon because of sanctuary law. This is the kind of people the leftists are letting into our country under the banner of “diversity!” I don’t totally agree with Trump rhetoric and how the media has twisted that all around. Not all immigrants are bad of course they’re not but our stupid liberal policies are turning blind eye to (even genocidal Muslim war criminals) in this state!