Less than 24 hours after an Islamophobic white terrorist committed the worst mass shooting in New Zealand since the 1940s, officials vowed to vastly reform the country’s lax gun laws.
Speaking after the terrorist attack at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, which left 50 people dead during Friday prayers and 50 others injured, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised that gun law reform would come sooner, rather than later.
“While the nation grapples with a form of grief and anger that we have not experienced before, we are seeking answers,” Ardern said at a news conference on Saturday. “I can tell you one thing right now, our guns laws will change.”
Ardern confirmed that the 28-year-old Australian white supremacist who carried out the terrorist attack, which he livestreamed to social media, used five firearms, including two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns. He obtained a license for the weapons in November 2017, she said.
At a vigil, Attorney-General David Parker announced that the government would ban semi-automatic firearms in response to the shootings, which prompted cheers and applause from a crowd that had gathered to mourn the victims. However, Parker later clarified that statement by saying officials would “look at the issue,” Radio New Zealand reported.
“Mr Parker told RNZ he could not remember his exact words but was trying to reflect Ardern’s comments that ‘we need to ban some semi-automatics, perhaps all of them.’ Those decisions have yet to be taken but the prime minister has signalled that we are going to look at that issue,” RNZ reported.
Ardern said that New Zealand’s Cabinet would discuss gun laws and possible reform on Monday, according to Bloomberg.
Gun law reforms have the support of New Zealand’s Police Association, whose president, Chris Cahill, criticized the country’s lack of a gun registry and the ease at which people can legally access semi-automatic weapons.
“We know how easy it is to get firearms in New Zealand, and while today and the next few days is the time to look after the welfare of the victims and their families, clearly we need to have a look at firearms law in New Zealand,” Cahill said, according to RNZ.
Currently, anyone over 16 can obtain a firearms license, and none of the guns they purchase need to be registered.
CNN, citing New Zealand police, said there are about 1.2 million firearms in the country.
The news outlet noted that following a 1996 mass shooting that killed 35 people, Australia reformed its gun laws and has seen a dramatic drop in gun-related deaths.
“Within two weeks [of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre], Australian lawmakers banned rapid-fire rifles and shotguns and introduced tighter laws governing ownership of other weapons. New applicants must undergo thorough background checks and present a ‘justifiable reason’ for ownership — with self defense not applicable,” CNN reported.
Among the results:
- The risk of dying from a gunshot in Australia dropped by 50%.
- Firearm suicide rates fell by 80% over the next 10 years.
- A third of the country’s privately owned firearms were destroyed as part of a government-sponsored buyback program.
Update, Saturday, 4:38 p.m.: This post has been updated with a new statement by New Zealand’s police noting that the death toll now stands at 50, while 50 others were injured.