President Joe Biden lauded New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday for her accomplishment in reducing domestic extremism and gun violence, as he attempts to persuade a skeptic Congress to strengthen gun regulations in the wake of the horrible mass killings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York.
The long-awaited meeting between Biden and Ardern focused on trade, climate change, and security in the Indo-Pacific, but the two leaders’ vastly contrasting experiences in advocating for gun control loomed big in the discussion.
After a white supremacist shooter slaughtered 51 Muslim worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch in 2019, Ardern was successful in getting gun control legislation passed in her country. All but one of the country’s 120 MPs voted in support of outlawing military-style semiautomatic rifles less than a month later.
“I promise you,” Biden told reporters at the outset of his meeting with Ardern, “I will meet with the Congress on firearms.” However, the White House has admitted that passing new gun laws in an equally split Congress will be difficult.
The US president complimented Ardern for her “galvanizing leadership” in New Zealand’s attempts to combat the spread of extremism online, and expressed interest in learning more about the country’s discussions on the subject. The two leaders spent part of their discussion addressing “what has been done on gun control” under Ardern’s leadership, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
In 2019, Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron announced a joint effort with Internet giants to combat terrorist and violent extremist propaganda on the internet. The proposal was first rejected by then-President Donald Trump, but the Biden administration has since joined the Christchurch Call to Action.
In the aftermath of the shooting rampage that murdered 19 children and two teachers, Biden drove to Uvalde, Texas, to grieve alongside a community that, he said, made it plain to him that they want Washington to tighten gun restrictions. When Biden visited with the families of ten Black individuals slain in a racist attack at a Buffalo supermarket earlier this month, he heard similar cries for a change in the country’s gun regulations.
Biden and Ardern also spoke about a shooting that occurred on May 15 at a lunch banquet at a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods, California, killing one person and injuring five others.
“The sadness is obvious,” Biden remarked, recalling his heartfelt interactions with relatives of the Texas elementary school shooting victims on Sunday.
Ardern expressed her sympathies and stated that she would be willing to give “anything that we can provide that would be of any use” from New Zealand’s experience.
“Our experience underlined our need for gun control, but it also demonstrated what I believe to be a worldwide issue surrounding violent extremism and terrorism online,” Ardern said after her over-an-hour conversation with Biden. “We see a strong relationship in that area, and we can continue to work on those issues.”
It’s unclear what, if anything, the United States may learn from New Zealand, which hasn’t approved a major legislative gun control bill since shortly after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Connecticut, which killed 26 people.
A bipartisan group of senators met virtually on Tuesday to attempt to reach an agreement on gun safety legislation, but expectations are low. Senators are unlikely to raise the possibility of an assault weapon ban or other limitations that would be popular with the public as a strategy to prevent the most devastating mass shootings. Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., led the session, which was dubbed a “really productive dialogue” by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.
Meanwhile, Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wants to hold a hearing on the “Protecting our Kids Act” on Thursday, a collection of eight legislation that has little chance of passing the Senate but would serve as a watershed moment in the discussion. It calls for raising the age limit for purchasing semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 years old, establishing a grant program to buy back large-capacity magazines, establishing voluntary safe storage practices for firearms, and building on executive actions to ban bump stocks and so-called ghost guns made from 3-D printing.
In remarks to reporters, Ardern stated that the political systems of the two nations are “quite different.”
“In the aftermath of it, the New Zealand people had an expectation that if we understood what the problem was, we would do something about it,” she said of the Christchurch shooting. We had the opportunity to put a ban on semiautomatic military-style firearms and assault rifles, and we did so with near-unanimous support from lawmakers. However, expectations are determined first and foremost by the New Zealand people.”
According to a senior Biden administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation, the New Zealand prime minister did not urge Biden to take any specific action during their meeting, but instead expressed a broad understanding of what the US is going through.
Last week, Ardern addressed the plague of disinformation propagated and amplified on social media during a graduating speech at Harvard University. It poses a threat to vulnerable democracies, she warned.
The shooter in Christchurch was radicalized online. She pointed out that the crime, like the Buffalo supermarket shooting, was livestreamed on social media.
She remarked at Harvard that “the moment has come for social media corporations and other online providers to understand their influence and act on it.”
Biden met with Ardern following his first trip to Asia last week, which included stops in Japan and South Korea to emphasize his administration’s plans to focus more on the Indo-Pacific.
Biden unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework in Japan, a new trade agreement created with 14 Pacific partners, including New Zealand. The US sees the accord as a viable alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has continued to move forward despite Trump’s withdrawal.
Despite joining the new Indo-Pacific framework created by the United States, Ardern said she maintained her commitment to TPP.