New Zealand will tighten gun laws following terrorist attack

The country has an estimated 1.5 million firearms in a population of under five million

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern says a man arrested over the mass shooting in Christchurch in which at least 49 people were killed intended to continue the attack when he was intercepted by police. Video: Reuters

 

New Zealand will ban semi-automatic weapons after the worst mass killing in the nation’s history left 49 people dead and another 48 injured.

As the nation reeled following the terror attack in the South Island city of Christchurch, New Zealand attorney general David Parker said the weapons would be outlawed.

New Zealand’s prime minster Ardern said on Saturday that she planned to reform gun laws and her government has already announced it will ban semi-automatic rifles.She said the proposed reforms, which will be the focus of a cabinet meeting on Monday, will also focus on the ease with which legal weapons can be modified to become military-style assault rifles, which are more strictly controlled.

It follows the use of what is believed to be modified semi-automatic rifles in the massacres at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques on Friday .

Arden told reporters on Saturday that the guns “appear to have been modified” and said that was “a challenge that we will look to address in changing our laws”.

New Zealand police commissioner Mike Bush told reporters that the guns used in the killing were able to be purchased legally under a “category-A” licence, which is the entry-level gun licence in New Zealand and does not require a licence holder to register their weapons.

However, the weapons were not legal as they were found by police after the attack.

“A category-A firearm holder can purchase the firearms without the magazines or the things that will enable them to be in the state that they were,” Bush said.

Semi-automatic rifles

Brenton Tarrant, the Australian man arrested and charged in relation to the massacre, had held a category-A firearms licence since December 2017. He was alleged to have had five guns, including two semi-automatic rifles and two shotguns.

More than 2,000 firearms, including several types of semi-automatic rifle, can be legally purchased under a category-A licence.

University of Sydney gun control expert Philip Alpers, the founder of global site gunpolicy.org, said that semi-automatic rifles could be modified “very easily” into military-style semi-automatic rifles using a high-capacity magazine, the sale of which is not restricted in New Zealand.Military-style semi-automatic assault rifles are those with a magazine that holds or appears to hold more than 15 cartridges, for a .22 calibre rifle, or more than seven cartridges for a higher calibre rifle.

The sale of normal semi-automatic guns is not restricted in New Zealand. The same weapons can only be acquired by licensed professional hunters in Australia, and must be individually imported.

Under Australian law, all guns must be registered to a licensed-gun owner and automatic and semi-automatic weapons are banned.

“He would have found it very, very difficult to get these firearms in Australia,” Alpers said.

Stong gun lobby

Alpers said that Ardern had the opportunity to introduce sweeping gun reform, starting with the restriction of semi-automatic rifles and the creation of a central gun register, provided she acted quickly.

“If Jacinda Ardern moves as quickly as [former Australian prime minister] John Howard did [when he banned guns following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre], and she does it in 12 days, the probability is that she will be able to do what she wants to do,” Alpers said.

The gun lobby is very strong in New Zealand, supported by the New Zealand First party and a number of rural MPs whose constituents do not want to lose access to the firearms they use for recreational hunting or as tools on farms.

Similar lobby groups opposed gun reform in Australia but were overridden by public safety concerns in the wake of Port Arthur.

Alpers said the gun lobby was unlikely to be able to mount an argument that the public would accept in the wake of the worst massacre in New Zealand’s recent history.

“I can’t imagine a country where it is less likely that they will just utter ‘thoughts and prayers’ and let it slide,” he said. “That won’t happen in New Zealand.”

Gun crime

New Zealand has a lower rate of gun crime in Australia, despite having three times the number of licensed gun owners per head of population.

“They are very proud of how their gun laws have worked,” Alpers said. “This will mark a profound change to New Zealand’s self-perception.”

Gun control advocate Professor Simon Chapman said a similar attack could only occur in Australia if the perpetrator was able to obtain “totally illegal weapons bought off an illegal market.”

“You can only speculate about why this person decided to go over to New Zealand to do what he did, but it is possibly because it was much easier for him to purchase the means to do it,” Chapman said. New Zealand’s firearm laws have remained largely unchanged since 1992, though subsequent government reviews have called for reforms.

In New Zealand, police officers don’t routinely carry firearms. The country has historically had a low homicide rate.

New Zealand police said last year that murder rates had dropped to the lowest level in 40 years, with 48 homicides in 2017. –Guardian and Reuters