Just nine months ago, I posed the question: should science communication get involved with gun control? I noted the number of homicides committed by using guns in New Zealand (5 in 2014) compared to the United States (over 15,000 in 2016).
Ten days ago, one lone gunman with a collection of semi-automatic assault rifles killed 50 people in Christchurch: ten years’ accumulation of homicides in a matter of minutes!
Apart from the tragedy of it all, it underscores just how lethal these weapons can be in the wrong hands and that countries like New Zealand and Norway, with high per capita gun ownership but low homicide rates, cannot be complacent. It only needs one rotten egg – one Anders Breivik, one Brenton Tarrant – for all our society’s norms to be shattered.
The only real cure is to ban the use of such assault rifles. Unlike the United States, where the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other groups have lobbied effectively to prevent gun control in the face of such massacres, the New Zealand government has acted quickly. Military style semi-automatics and assault rifles have now been banned.
It won’t bring back any of the lives taken so piteously in Christchurch, but hopefully it will prevent others from being lost. It feels, however, like a hollow victory for common sense. It should have never come to this, and, yes, we as science communicators should have played a more active role in communicating the detrimental effects of technology like guns on our health and our community’s health.
Science communicators should not be simply unbiased translators for science. We should be proactive in promoting the good and deriding the bad about science and technology.