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Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand felt ‘responsible’ to act on guns after Christchurch

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, received a standing ovation on Thursday for outlining her country’s progressive policies, including a ban on military-style semi-automatic assault rifles following the Christchurch shootings in 2019.

Speaking at Harvard University’s commencement ceremony, Ardern spoke of the March 2019 mass shooting in his country that killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch.

“Following the New Zealand experience, we felt responsible. We knew we needed significant gun reform, so that’s what we did,” Ardern said.

The mention was particularly poignant, days after an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 students and two fourth-grade teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The Senate suspended for two weeks on Thursday without passing gun control legislation, but a bipartisan group will work to bring about a response to gun violence.

“Frankly, sometimes it’s easier to address these issues outside of Washington rather than when we’re here,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Ardern also noted that the terrorist responsible for the Christchurch shooting had radicalized online and live-streamed his attacks on social media, underscoring the responsibility of such companies to work with governments to counter violent extremism.

“Now is the time for social media companies and other online providers to recognize their power and act on it,” Ardern said. “That means abiding by their own basic terms of service. It means acknowledging the role they play in constantly curating and shaping the online environments in which we find ourselves.

Ardern also called for the development of “more responsible algorithms”.

“At best, this means the user experience is personalized, but at worst, it means the user experience can be radicalized,” Ardern continued. “Let’s start with the transparency of how algorithmic processes work and what results they produce. But let’s end with a shared approach to responsible algorithms, because the time has come.

Earlier this week, Ardern appeared on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” where she spoke about how her country had successfully passed gun-related changes. New Zealand has implemented a six-month gun buyback and amnesty program, allowing owners to turn in their guns and collect more than 56,000.

“We saw something wrong and we acted on it,” Ardern told Stephen Colbert.

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