Analysis: The Uvalde school massacre is front and centre in peoples’ minds, including the Senators and Congressmen the Prime Minister met at The Capitol just 24 hours after the shooting.
While Jacinda Ardern would have anticipated her meetings in Washington being focused on the return of the US to the Indo-Pacific, the growing influence of China in the region and the invasion of Ukraine, it was gun law reform that took centre stage.
Even Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who has received donations in the millions from the National Rifle Association, was cornered into saying he supported some gun law reform after a New Zealand journalist unexpectedly threw a question at him during his official photo with Ardern.
Romney made the comment while ironically standing in front of a large, framed poster of John Wayne – the American cowboy actor famous for Western movie gun fights – one of many decorating his office.
All of Ardern’s meetings in Washington canvassed the issue of gun laws.
In the case of Democrat Senator John Ossoff he spoke with raw emotion about the need for change in the US and moving away from a world where school, supermarket and cinema shootings are considered “normal’’.
Ossoff told media, “right now the US needs leadership like that demonstrated by Ardern’’ following the Christchurch mosque attacks.
In reply to the Senator, Ardern reassured him that “change is possible when you have the will amongst the people’’.
The last 24 hours have seen Ardern pivot away from the trade and tourism focus she had insisted was the primary mission of her US trip.
Democrat Senator Rick Larsen, who co-chairs the Friends of New Zealand Caucus, also spoke of the need for change after 212 shootings in the States already this year.
“We have a gun problem in this country and there’s a lot of talk of thoughts and prayers. Save that for church, though, because it’s the Congress that needs to take action,’’ he said.
Larsen went on to say despite the fact the Texas shooting should prompt reform, he found it “upsetting and frustrating…this shooting probably won’t be the one to create change either’’.
He pointed to the fact it would take many reforms, not just the restriction of guns, to implement the shift the US needed.
Everything from counsellors in schools identifying at-risk teenagers, to misinformation on social media, to legislative change was needed, he said.
The social media aspect is something Ardern has already started trying to tackle after she teamed up with French President Emmanuel Macron to create the Christchurch Call, in the wake of the March 15 mosque attacks.
Ardern said the work being done between tech and social media companies and the countries that had signed up to the Call was part of her conversations at The Capitol.
The past 24 hours have seen Ardern pivot away from the trade and tourism focus she had insisted was the primary mission of her US trip.
Nobody could have anticipated the tragic shooting in Texas – even in New York Ardern found herself changing tack in her interview with Stephen Colbert after news of the attack broke just hours before The Live Show recording.
While the US Constitution means gun ownership rights is never going to be a straightforward political debate, Ardern has offered some of those she visited in Washington an insight into how it might be achieved if the people truly want it.
Ardern told Colbert in her interview that if the Government hadn’t acted to ban semi-automatic military-style weapons, then in time the public would have demanded it anyway.
And while some US Senators were keen to hear New Zealand’s blueprint for gun reform, they’re also realistic that the American experience and story will be different.
Plainly-speaking, the US isn’t interested in being lectured by other countries as to how it should fix its own problems.
But as Ardern looks to get a meeting at The White House with President Joe Biden next week, it won’t have done any harm that she has already done a sweep of Washington DC and made an impression.
Biden is looking for friends and allies in the Indo-Pacific region, and the New Zealand experience and story of how a nation responded to a gunman killing 51 people in Christchurch might just give further impetus for a face-to-face.