In the aftermath of the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, where 50 people were killed, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, at parliament on Monday, said that her cabinet has agreed to toughen gun laws. The proposed changes will be announced before the cabinet meets again next week.
Ardern is also encouraging gun owners to surrender their weapons, as her government works through changes to firearm laws over the next week. She praised the fact that her government had made decisions about new restrictions on gun ownership within 72 hours of the Christchurch attacks.
“To make our community safer, the time to act is now,” she says. “I want to remind people, you can surrender your gun to the police at any time. In fact I have seen reports that people are in fact already doing this. I applaud that effort, and if you are thinking about surrendering your weapon, I would encourage you to do so.”
Ardern went on to “applaud” New Zealanders who have surrendered weapons and she encouraged others to go ahead and hand theirs over as well:
Compared to the United States, New Zealand already has fairly strict gun control laws. According to the New York Times, to get a gun in New Zealand, applicants must first pass a background check that considers criminal, medical, mental health and domestic violence records; provide character references; subject themselves to government interviews; pass a home security inspection; take a gun safety course; and then wait weeks or months for firearms license approval.
But, according to New Zealand police data, virtually everyone who applies for a firearm license gets it. Once applicants have that license, powerful weapons are available to them. Sniper rifles and armor-piercing bullets are available to anyone with an “A-category” license, the New Zealand Herald reports. (A-category weapons can be semi-automatic, but are limited to seven shots.)
Ardern promised to share details of further gun restrictions over the next week, but the new rules will likely focus on semi-automatic weapons. “I think what the public rightly are asking is why is it, and how is it, that you [are] currently able to buy semi-automatic military style weapons in New Zealand,” Ardern said. “And that’s the right question to ask.”
According to NPR’s Julie McCarthy, the New Zealand retailer “Gun City” sold the alleged shooter four A-category firearms and ammunition. McCarthy reports that the semi-automatic weapon used in the shooting is believed to have been modified to increase firepower.
It’s unclear how the country, which maintains a relatively high rate of gun ownership, will react to the proposed changes. Ardern acknowledged the potential jitters the new laws might cause for some gun owners there, “including those who possess guns for legitimate reasons,” especially in rural areas, she said. “I want to assure you that the work that we are doing is not directed at you. In fact, I strongly believe that the vast majority of gun owners in New Zealand will agree with the sentiment that change needs to occur.”
In the meantime, Ardern said, New Zealanders can surrender their guns to New Zealand Police at any time.
The alleged shooter, 28-year-old Brenton Harrison Tarrant, is said to be an Australian citizen. Australia notably tightened its laws after a gunman used a semi-automatic rifle in Port Arthur to kill 35 people in 1996. Subsequent rules prohibited all automatic and semi-automatic weapons, imposed stringent licensing rules, background checks and waiting periods. A gun buyback program led to the destruction of more than 600,000 weapons.
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