President Joe Biden praised New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday for her success in combating domestic extremism and gun violence, as he tries to persuade a hesitant Congress to tighten gun laws in the aftermath of the horrific mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York.
The long-planned talks between Biden and Ardern were supposed to focus on trade, climate, and security in the Indo-Pacific, but their starkly different experiences pushing for gun control loomed large in the conversation.
After a white supremacist gunman killed 51 Muslim worshippers at two Christchurch mosques in 2019, Ardern successfully lobbied for gun control legislation in her country. In less than a month, all but one of the country’s 120 lawmakers voted to ban military-style semiautomatic weapons.
Biden told reporters at the start of his meeting with Ardern that he “will meet with Congress on guns, I promise you,” but the White House has acknowledged that getting new gun legislation passed in an evenly divided Congress will be difficult.
The US president praised Ardern for her “galvanizing leadership” in New Zealand’s efforts to combat the spread of extremism online, and said he wanted to learn more about the discussions taking place in her country.
The effort was initially refused by then-President Donald Trump, but the Biden administration has since joined the Christchurch Call to Action.
Biden traveled to Uvalde, Texas, over the weekend to mourn with a community that he said made it clear to him that they want Washington to tighten gun laws in the aftermath of the shooting rampage that killed 19 children and two teachers. When Biden met with the families of ten Black people killed in a racist attack at a Buffalo supermarket earlier this month, he heard similar calls for an overhaul of the country’s gun laws.
Biden and Ardern also talked about the May 15 shooting at a lunch banquet at a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods, California, which killed one person and injured five others.
Ardern expressed her condolences and stated that she was willing to share “anything that we can share that would be of any value” from New Zealand’s experience.
It’s unclear what, if anything, can be applied to the United States, which hasn’t passed a major federal gun control measure since shortly after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, which killed 26 people.
She said of the Christchurch shooting, “in the aftermath of that, the New Zealand public had an expectation that if we knew what the problem was, we would do something about it.” We had the ability, with nearly unanimous support from parliamentarians, to ban semiautomatic military-style weapons and assault rifles, and we did so. However, the expectations are set first and foremost by the New Zealand public.”
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 talks, but expressed a broad understanding of what the United States is going through.
Ardern addressed the scourge of disinformation spread and amplified on social media in a speech at Harvard University’s commencement last week. She described it as a threat to fragile democracies.
The Christchurch shooter was radicalized on the internet. She mentioned that the attack, like the Buffalo supermarket rampage, was livestreamed on social media.
Biden’s meeting with Ardern came after his first trip to Asia last week, which included stops in Japan and South Korea to highlight his administration’s efforts to focus more on the Indo-Pacific region.
Biden unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework in Japan, a new trade pact forged with 14 Pacific allies, including New Zealand. The United States sees the agreement as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has moved forward without the United States since Trump’s withdrawal.
Even as New Zealand joins the newly launched Indo-Pacific framework, Ardern reiterated her commitment to TPP.