Less than a day after a terrorist attack at two mosques that left 49 people dead and several fighting for their lives, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she will change gun laws of the country, with the prime minister noting that the New Zealand government is now looking at banning semi-automatic weapons.
“While the nation grapples with a form of grief and anger that we have not experienced before, we are seeking answers,” Ardern said during a Saturday morning news conference in Wellington, cited by Bloomberg. “I can tell you one thing right now, our guns laws will change.”
“There were five guns used by the primary perpetrator,” she said at the news conference. “There were two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns. The offender was in possession of a gun license. I’m advised this was acquired in November of 2017. A lever-action firearm was also found.”
She said the suspect, who has not been publicly identified, obtained a gun license in November 2017 and began purchasing guns legally in December 2017.
“While work is being done as to the chain of events that lead to both the holding of this gun license and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now. Our gun laws will change.” Ardern said adding that
The suspected attacker was not on a government watch list in either New Zealand or Australia, and had bought five guns legally according to the PM.
The suspected gunman got a “category A” firearms license in 2017, and began stockpiling weapons legally at that point, Ardern told reporters on Saturday. The “mere fact” that this happened means people will want to see a change to gun laws, and she was committed to supporting that, she added.
In what Ardern described as a well-planned terrorist attack, a shooter walked into a packed mosque in the South Island city of Christchurch on Friday afternoon and opened fire on worshippers, filming and live-streaming the act to social media. After killing 41 people there, he drove to another mosque and continued the massacre, murdering a further seven people. Another person died in hospital.
Shortly before the attack, he published a 73-page ‘manifesto’ in which he vowed “revenge” against Muslim “invaders” and said he was inspired by Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.
Most of the victims were at the Al Noor mosque, as the attacker was reportedly chased out of the Linwood mosque by a “well known Muslim local” who fired two shots in pursuit, according to the New Zealand Herald. The Herald quoted one of the witnesses who said that the gunman was confronted by a mosque caretaker, who wrestled one of his guns away but did not shoot because he “couldn’t find the trigger.”
Currently, New Zealand restricts the purchase of “military-style semi-automatic weapons” to those 18 or older. The minimum legal age to buy a firearm is 16. Anyone the police consider to be “fit and proper” can get a firearms license – provided they pass a background check involving criminal and medical records. Registration of individual weapons is not required.
Until Friday, the biggest massacre in the country’s history happened 30 years ago, when a man named David Gray went on a shooting rampage, killing 13 people.
Following that attack, the nation’s gun laws – which were first passed in 1983 – came under scrutiny according to CNN. The ensuing debate led to a 1992 amendment on the regulation of military-style semi-automatic firearms. Despite those laws, New Zealand’s weapons legislation is considered more relaxed than most Western countries outside of the USA. Gun owners do need a license but they aren’t required to register their guns – unlike in neighboring Australia.
New Zealand police officers are not routinely armed, but recent figures suggest more officers are in favor of carrying guns. A 2017 survey from the New Zealand Police Association showed that that 66% of its members support arming officers, according to TVNZ. That figure has significantly increased from a decade ago, when 48% of officers supported general arming in 2008.
New Zealand also has a low murder rate, with a total of 35 homicides in 2017, fewer than the number of people who died in Friday’s double mosque attack.