New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that she plans to announce stricter gun laws within the next few days, just days after a white nationalist gunman opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch during Friday prayers, killing 50 people and injuring dozens of others.
"Within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism we will have announced reforms which will, I believe, make our community safer," Ardern said in a news conference.
She did not give specifics, but said she supports a ban on semiautomatic, military-style weapons, which she has discussed with her cabinet. Unlike the U.K. or Australia, but like the U.S., New Zealand doesn't have a ban on semiautomatic weapons, although they do require a special license.
In contrast with the U.S., which managed not to pass any federal gun laws even after children were gunned down in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.K. have acted fast after shootings of this magnitude. New Zealand, similar to the States, makes it very easy to buy guns without registration and has a powerful gun lobby — though not as powerful as the National Rifle Association (NRA).
"It is heartening to see Jacinda Ardern's incredible leadership and how quickly her administration is acting in the wake of this horrific mass shooting," Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, the grassroots arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, told Refinery29. "We've had at least 200 mass shootings in America since 2009...and yet our leaders have done very little. There's a key difference between New Zealand and the U.S., and that's that we have a gun lobby that uses its power and money to persuade some lawmakers to stand in the way of laws that are proven by data and research to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people."
There's a key difference between New Zealand and the U.S., and that's that we have a gun lobby that uses its power and money to persuade some lawmakers to stand in the way of laws that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, explained to the Washington Post that while New Zealand's gun lobby and the NRA share a lot of common goals, the U.S. system of representation and the way congressional districts are drawn gives a disproportionate amount of power to rural voters, who are more likely to oppose restrictions on guns. This (and its money) is why the NRA has so much influence with certain politicians, despite the majority of the population supporting common-sense gun reform. New Zealand's voting system is designed so that small interest groups don't have disproportionate influence.
"Our form of government, with a Senate that gives extraordinary power to rural states over urban states and is deferential to states' rights, makes it difficult to advance relatively modest gun-control measures, much less more sweeping measures," Webster told the Washington Post. "The gun lobby has been very influential in convincing people the [second amendment prohibits any] form of gun control, which affects the politics over even modest measures."
New Zealand is determined not to follow in the U.S.' footsteps. Some gun owners have already voluntarily given up their weapons. "Until today I was one of the New Zealanders who owned a semiautomatic rifle. On the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn't outweigh the risk of misuse. We don't need these in our country," tweeted John Hart.
The online marketplace Trade Me Group said it would stop selling semiautomatic weapons after Friday's attack.
Philip Alpers of GunPolicy.org, which is hosted by the University of Sydney, told the New York Times that there are still big loopholes in the country's gun laws. "New Zealand is almost alone with the United States in not registering 96% of its firearms, and those are its most common firearms, the ones most used in crimes," he said. "There are huge gaps in New Zealand law even if some of its laws are strong."
New Zealand has a relatively low murder rate, but guns are common and very easy to obtain online and through newspaper ads. According to the Small Arms Survey, there were 1.2 million registered firearms in 2017, which makes gun ownership in the country higher than Australia's, but still far lower than the U.S., where there is more than one gun per person in a population of 327 million. After a mass shooting in 1990 in Aramoana, in which a man killed 13 people, including two children, New Zealand tightened its restrictions on semiautomatic weapons.
David Tipple, the owner of the Gun City superstore in Christchurch, said at a news conference that the suspected gunman legally bought four weapons and ammunition online from his shop between December 2017 and March 2018 and had them delivered by mail, but that he did not purchase the semiautomatic weapon he used in the attack there.
"The clear lesson from history around the world is that to make our community safer, the time to act is now," Ardern said. "I strongly believe that the vast majority of gun owners in New Zealand will agree with the sentiment that change needs to occur."
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