- New Zealand is already working to crack down on its lax gun laws, after a deadly massacre at two mosques in Christchurch killed 50 people on Friday.
- The suspect used five weapons, including two semiautomatic weapons, two shotguns, and one lever-action firearm, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters at a press conference on Saturday.
- Ardern has vowed to announce legislation within 10 days of the March 15 massacre.
- Already, New Zealanders have begun turning in their guns, and weapons retailers have been blocking certain purchases.
- New Zealand has a licensing system, but the country’s gun laws overall are some of the most lax in the developed world.
- Read our full coverage of the New Zealand shooting here.
A deadly shooting rampage in New Zealand on March 15 has set in motion a plan to overhaul the country’s gun-control laws, after a gunman mowed down dozens of worshippers at two Christchurch mosques.
Authorities said 50 people were killed, and 50 more were injured in the attacks. The suspect was identified in court documents on Saturday as 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, an Australian citizen and avowed white supremacist.
The gunman used five firearms which he purchased legally, using a New Zealand gun license he obtained in November 2017, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a press conference on Saturday.
Two of those guns were semiautomatic weapons, two were shotguns, and one was a lever-action firearm, Ardern said. She vowed that her government will announce reforms to the country’s gun laws within 10 days of the massacre.
“I can tell you one thing right now: our gun laws will change,” she said.
Ardern said her cabinet is “completely unified” in pursuing gun-control reforms, but has not outlined what specific changes her government will pursue. Her attorney general, David Parker, had previously hinted at a ban on semiautomatic weapons, but he walked back those statements quickly afterward and said “those decisions have yet to be taken.”
Already, a number of gun retailers have pulled merchandise or blocked certain purchases while they await the reforms.
TradeMe, New Zealand’s largest online auction website, announced Monday it suspended the sale of semiautomatic weapons. The company said in a statement it “listened to public sentiment” before making the decision.
One gun-store owner in Christchurch told NPR he’s halted all sales of AR-platform guns until the government or police give him further direction. He also said he’s been turning down customers asking to buy high-capacity magazines, even though they’re legal to purchase.
“Anyone can buy those magazines. They’re just not allowed to put them in their gun,” Shooters Supplies owner Andrew Taylor told NPR. “But if they do, what can we do?”
Some are already surrendering their guns
A number of New Zealanders have taken to Twitter to announce they’re turning over their guns to police in the wake of the massacre, with some even posting images of their arms surrender forms.
One resident, John Hart, went viral on Sunday after announcing on Twitter he gave up his semiautomatic rifle for destruction.
Until today I was one of the New Zealanders who owned a semi-automatic rifle. On the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse.
We don’t need these in our country.
— John Hart (@farmgeek) March 18, 2019
Another Twitter user who owned their weapon for 31 years announced they were turning in their rifle.
“Since I first heard about the atrocity on Friday afternoon I have reflected and reserved my thoughts,” the user wrote. “Monday morning – this is one of the easiest decisions I have ever made.”
New Zealand police have also said they’re “happy” for people to voluntarily give up their weapons to local police stations, asking only that people alert authorities before they arrive “given the current situation.”
How the New Zealand suspect got his guns
- A police officer stands guard during Friday prayers at the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, providing extra security after the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand on March 15, 2019.
- REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
The guns used by the Christchurch suspect have drawn significant attention, ever since live-streamed video of the shooting and photos from a now-defunct Twitter account revealed the weapons in question. The rifles and magazines were covered in odd symbols and white writing, some of it in the Cyrillic alphabet.
Some of the writing referred to infamous mass shooters and extremists, such as an Italian national who injured six African migrants last year, and a Canadian man who fatally shot six people in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017.
Writing on the guns also referred to Ebba Akerlund, an 11-year-old victim of a 2017 terror attack in Sweden, according to the Associated Press. White supremacists have frequently touted the girl’s death as a racist excuse to seek “revenge” on Muslims.
The owner of the retailer Gun City, David Tipple, confirmed to media in a press conference that his company sold the suspect four weapons – but not the military-style semiautomatic rifle primarily used to carry out the attack.
He said each of the guns his store sold to the suspect underwent a “police-verified online mail order process,” and that the company “detected nothing extraordinary about the license holder.” He said he provided police with full details of those sales in the wake of the attack.
New Zealand lets the ‘fit and proper’ get guns – with some loopholes
New Zealand’s 5 million residents own a cumulative 1.2 million firearms, according to data from the 2017 Small Arms Survey. That figure dwarfs the per-capita gun ownership rate of neighboring Australia, where there are just 3.6 million guns among a population of nearly 25 million.
But both countries still pale in comparison to the United States, where there are far more guns than people, with an estimated 393 million guns for the country’s 326 million people.
New Zealand already has a number of gun-control laws in place, including a licensing system that requires prospective gun owners to pass a background check to determine whether they are a “fit and proper person.”
Self-defense is also not a valid reason to obtain a gun license in New Zealand – residents must prove they require the gun for a “lawful, proper, and sufficient purpose” like hunting or recreational shooting.
But despite the licensing system, New Zealand gun owners are not required to register all of their firearms, as gun owners in most other developed countries do.
In comparison, Australia’s famously strict gun laws ban all semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, and require lengthy waiting periods and background checks before purchases. The country also implemented a massive buyback program in the 1990s, which took more than 650,000 guns out of circulation.
Researchers have even found that Australia’s laws have effectively prevented mass shootings in the two decades since the nation enacted a crackdown on firearms.
New Zealand residents have also begun a vigorous debate over gun-control laws within the last year – particularly when it comes to what they call military-style semiautomatic rifles (MSSAs), and a legal loophole that has allowed many people to purchase them without the special designated licenses.
Since New Zealand law strictly defines MSSAs by their parts, such as their magazine capacities and pistol grips, slight modifications to the weapons can take a gun out of the MSSA category and allow people to purchase them with regular licenses, rather than the specially designated ones.
If New Zealand does crack down on guns in the wake of Friday’s massacre, it wouldn’t be the first time. Lawmakers tightened up regulations around semiautomatic weapons in 1992, two years after a gunman fatally shot 13 people, including two six-year-olds, in the town of Aramoana.
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