New Zealand will have new gun control laws within 10 days of the Christchurch mosque attacks

The prime minister vowed: “Within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism, we will have announced reforms which will, I believe, make our community safer."
March 18, 2019, 11:52am
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Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern announced Monday that New Zealand will reform its gun laws within 10 days following the mass shooting at two Christchurch mosques on Friday.

Brenton Tarrant, 28, appeared in court over the weekend charged with murder after allegedly killing 50 people in the country’s worst ever terror attack.

The shooting exposed weaknesses in New Zealand’s gun laws, Ardern said at a press conference in Wellington Monday after a Cabinet meeting.

The Cabinet agreed “in principle” to change gun control laws, she added.

“This ultimately means that within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism, we will have announced reforms which will, I believe, make our community safer,” Ardern said.

There was an expectation that the PM would announce a ban on semi-automatic rifles — the type used by the suspect.

Yet despite saying her cabinet was “completely unified” on the changes, Ardern gave no concrete proposals, instead saying officials would take the rest of the week to work out how best to change the law.

“These aren’t simple areas of law. So that’s simply what we’ll be taking the time to get right,” she said.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, the leader of the NZ First party, had previously blocked efforts at gun reform. However, speaking alongside Ardern, Peters said he was fully behind her move.

“Our world changed forever and so will some of our laws,” he said.

A number of stores in New Zealand have announced they are withdrawing semi-automatic or “military-style” firearms from sale in the aftermath of the attack.

The suspect, who obtained a gun license in 2017, used five guns in Friday’s attack, two of which were semi-automatic weapons. Ardern said over the weekend that at least one of the weapons had been modified.

Experts say weapons can be easily be turned into military-style semi-automatic rifles using high-capacity magazines, which are unregulated under the current law.

New Zealand doesn’t register its civilian guns so authorities don’t have accurate figures of how many firearms are in circulation. Ardern called on current gun owners to hand in their weapons.

“I've seen reports that people are in fact already doing this. I applaud that effort and if you're thinking about surrendering your weapon, I would encourage you to do so,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, Ardern also noted the controversy surrounding the role social media played in amplifying the massacre, which was live streamed on Facebook.

“I would call on our social media platforms of all variety to demonstrate the kind of responsibility [on posts] that both lead to these events and … those who perpetuate the messages in the aftermath.”

Facebook said Sunday it had removed 1.5 million copies of the attack video, and 1.2 million of those removals happened at the point of upload. What Facebook didn’t say is how many people had viewed the 300,000 videos that slipped through its automated detection system.

Ardern said Facebook’s ability to block 1.2 million videos before they go on the site showed that tech companies have the power “to take a very direct approach to instances of speech that incites violence, or that incites hate.”

A New Zealand teenager appeared in court in Christchurch Monday charged with sharing the live stream online, as well as posting a photograph of one of the mosques attacked with the message "target acquired."

READ: New Zealand doesn’t register 96% of civilian guns. The Christchurch tragedy could change that.

The 18-year-old, whose name was withheld, was denied bail.

Tarrant, who is due back in court next month, dismissed his lawyer over the weekend and said he was planning to represent himself, sparking fears he will use the trial to publicize his beliefs.

Richard Peters, the duty lawyer who represented Tarrant in court Saturday, confirmed to the New Zealand Herald that he had been dismissed, adding that his former client appeared to be lucid and was not mentally unstable.

Cover image: Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on March 18, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)