Christchurch shooting: New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern on gun laws


New Zealand has made an “in principle decision” to introduce sweeping gun law reform after the sickening attack on two Christchurch mosques in which 50 people were killed with five military-style weapons.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her cabinet was “completely unified” in changing the legislation after the worst attack in the nation’s history exposed severe problems. The details will be announced in ten days.

She said there will also be an inquiry into the events leading up to the attack.

Ms Ardern said there would be a national commemoration service to acknowledge the tragedy of the attacks, after allowing time for victims to be returned to their loved ones.

Gun laws in New Zealand are far weaker than regulation in Australia and have been the subject of warnings from senior figures over the years.

Alleged gunman Brenton Tarrant, an Australian citizen, was granted a “category A” gun licence in November 2017 and began legally buying firearms the following month. He used five guns in the mass shooting — two semiautomatic rifles, a lever-action firearm and two shotguns. Ms Ardern said it appeared some of the weapons used had been modified.

Tarrant bought four firearms in separate “police-verified online mail” orders from Christchurch store Gun City, owner David Tipple told reporters in a press conference.

Mr Tipple said the accused killer had bought four guns and ammunition and police had been notified of the purchases. But he said the accused killer had not bought a military-style semiautomatic weapon from one of his stores, and the gun used in the killings was fitted with a magazine that would not have been sold with it.

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media_cameraNew Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to tighten the country’s gun laws. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

He said he was “devastated” by the tragedy, but insisted a debate on gun laws should take place at another time. “This man wrote in his manifesto that the purpose of using a firearm was to divide us,” Mr Tipple said. “If we allow him to make changes in our ideology, in our behaviour, he’s won.”

Mr Tipple also denied reports New Zealanders were “panic buyingguns after the prime minister vowed she would change the laws.

Tarrant, who lived in the South Island city of Dunedin, had not been on the radar for extremism of any intelligence agencies, even though he had published a manifesto online criticising immigration and outlining his plan to attack Muslims.

The accused mass murderer is believed to be planning to represent himself in court, raising the possibility of a grim spectacle as the 28-year-old expands on his disturbing views.

Police deputy commissioner Wally Haumaha told reporters at a Monday news conference that officers had been working through the night to get the bodies of the victims back to their families and to be ready for burial.

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media_cameraGun City owner David Tipple said the Christchurch store had sold guns online to the 28-year-old white supremacist accused of the shootings that have left New Zealand reeling. Picture: AP Photo/Vincent Yu

He said two blessings had taken place at the mosques where the attacks occurred, and police hoped the mosques will be able to be reopen at the end of the week.

President of the Islamic Associations New Zealand Mustafa Farouk said the community was “mourning, we are saddened, we are shocked” over the tragedy in “one of the most beautiful, most peaceful countries in the world.”

Fifty worshippers aged between two and 60-plus have been confirmed dead. Tarrant appeared at Christchurch District Court on Saturday morning and is expected to be back in court on April 5.

‘THEY NEED TO CHANGE’

New Zealand’s Attorney-General, David Parker, on Saturday appeared to tell a cheering crowd at a vigil the government would ban semiautomatic weapons, but later told Radio NZ it was just one option on the table.

Ms Ardern said on Sunday that banning private ownership of semiautomatic rifles, which were used to devastating effect in Friday’s attack on two Christchurch mosques, was an option.

“We cannot be deterred from the work we need to do on our gun laws in New Zealand,” she told reporters. “They need to change.”

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media_cameraThe shooter streamed a live video as he killed 50 people and hospitalised 36 at two Christchurch mosques on Friday. Picture: YouTube

“The mere fact that this individual had acquired a gun licence and acquired weapons of that range, then obviously I think people will be seeking change, and I’m committing to that,” Ms Ardern told reporters in Wellington on Saturday.

“While work is being done as to the chain of events that led to both the holding of this gun licence, and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now — our gun laws will change.

“There have been attempts to change our laws in 2005, 2012 and after an inquiry in 2017. Now is the time for change.”

Her words came as the organisers of New Zealand’s largest gun show cancelled the event planned for March 23 out of respect for victims of the shooting and because of “elevated security risks”.

Organisers said in a statement cancelled the Kumeu Militaria Show, near Auckland, that it exists to support servicemen and women and promote interest in New Zealand’s military history.

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media_cameraBrenton Tarrant allegedly bought his deadly weapons at a nationwide chain gun store and online. Picture: TRT World / TRT World / AFP

‘MOST PERMISSIVE GUN POLICIES IN THE REGION’

After watching the shooter’s live stream of the sickening massacre, a former armed offenders’ unit member told a New Zealand news outlet the weapons could be purchased with “a normal firearms licence”, despite being similar to what police and military use.

“He would have been shooting somewhere practising,” said the 16-year police veteran, who wished to remain unidentified. “It’s not the first time he’s ever fired those types of weapons. He’s fired them before.”

A spokesman for the Bruce Rifle Club, in South Otago, confirmed Tarrant was a club member and practised shooting at its range.

“We are all … a bit stunned and shocked,” the spokesman told The Otago Daily Times.

He added that Tarrant seemed “as normal as anyone else” and had “certainly” never mentioned anything about his beliefs about Muslims.

Deakin University counter-terrorism expert Greg Barton told ABC News that one of the weapons resembled an AR-15. “That’s the so-called civilian equivalent of the M-16,” he said. “It’s an assault rifle. We haven’t seen these assault weapons used in Australia and New Zealand.”

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media_cameraA vigil is held in Wellington after 50 people were confirmed dead and 36 injured in the shooting attacks on Al Noor and Linwood mosques. Picture: Elias Rodriguez/Getty Images

That assault rifle has been used in several massacres in the United States, including the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people in 2017.

New Zealand’s gun laws are stricter than those in the US, but weaker than most Western countries, resembling laws in Australia before former prime minister John Howard introduced reforms following the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

Neither New Zealand or the US possess a national gun register and police do not know “how many legally or illegally owned firearms there are in New Zealand”, according to a statement given last year.

According to GunPolicy.org, Australia has some of the “tightest gun control policies in the Pacific” and worldwide, while “New Zealand is at the opposite end of the spectrum with some of the most permissive gun policies in the region.”

Police estimated there were roughly 1.2 million legal firearms in New Zealand in 2014 — around one for every four members of the public, and twice the per capita number of guns in Australia.

Despite this, firearms fatalities have remained low in New Zealand, remaining below ten between 2007 and 2016, except in 2009 when 11 gun deaths were recorded.

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media_cameraFriends of a missing man grieve outside a refuge centre in Christchurch on Sunday. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Crime rates are relatively low overall. Police reported a rate of seven deaths for every one million people from 2017-2018, and the country’s murder rate fell to a 40-year low.

The country’s deadliest massacre before Friday came in 1990, when David Gray gunned down 13 people in the South Island town of Aramoana using two military style semiautomatic rifles.

New Zealand tightened its gun laws following the attack, but never adopted the strictest regulations.

The nation was warned about the dangerous loopholes in its firearms regulations numerous times, with retired judge Sir Thomas Thorp delivering a review on gun control 22 years ago.

Sir Thomas recommended banning military-style semiautomatic (MSSA) weapons and creating a buyback scheme similar to the one Australia’s Howard government implemented in response to the Port Arthur Massacre.

He told the government to limit the magazine capacity of other semiautomatic weapons and pump-action shotguns, maintain a registry of gun owners, and force them to renew their licenses every three years.

Sir Thomas also wanted to tighten the process for granting gun licences and improve the police force’s vetting of potential firearm owners.

Few of his recommendations were implemented. Repeated attempts to pass tighter gun laws in 1999, 2005, 2012 and 2017 were curtailed under pressure from the gun lobby.

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media_cameraA vigil in Wellington on Sunday after the worst mass shooting in New Zealand‘s history. Picture: Elias Rodriguez/Getty Images

The NZ Herald reported former assistant police commissioner Nick Perry told MPs at a committee hearing it was too easy for foreigners to enter the country and immediately purchase a gun licence. “They pay their $25, they get a licence,” Mr Perry said. “So I could paint a scenario where ISIS, for example, being stymied in Europe are looking for softer targets.

“If they did a little bit of spadework, they’d find out how easy it is to get into New Zealand, how easy it is to get a firearms licence, how easy it is to purchase high-capacity assault rifles.”

Mr Perry also highlighted how simple it was for anyone to obtain high-capacity magazines online, making their weapons even more deadly.

WHAT ARE NEW ZEALAND’S GUN LAWS?

Anyone over 16 can apply for a New Zealand firearms licence, which is valid for 10 years after they complete a safety course and a police background check.

Common rifles and shotguns do not need to be registered, but assault-style semiautomatic rifles such as those used in Friday’s attack — and other types of restricted firearms — do.

There are stricter regulations around owning these weapons, including more background checks, disabling weapons when not in use and obtaining a special police permit and collector’s licence for a fully automatic weapon.

But police and firearms experts have pointed to several loopholes allowing owners to bypass registration of semiautomatics.

It is illegal in New Zealand to openly carry a firearm in plain view in a public space and to carry a concealed firearm in a public space.

There have also been calls to arm New Zealand police, who do not typically carry firearms and rely on backup from specialist squads.

— With wires

Originally published as NZ to change gun laws within 10 days



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