In the worst ever terror attack in New Zealand, multiple gunmen carried out indiscriminate shootings at two mosques here during the Friday prayers, leaving 49 people dead and at least 48 wounded, besides giving a scare to the Bangladesh cricket team which had a narrow escape.
Using automatic weapons, the gunmen, four of whom have been taken into custody, launched a “well-planned” attack on the mosques when devotees had assembled for the weekly prayers. After the attack, the New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed to toughen the country’s gun laws.
While addressing media, Jacinda Ardern said the gunman, 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, obtained a “Category A” gun licence in November 2017 and began purchasing the five weapons used in attacks in the southern city of Christchurch the following month. The firearms included two semi-automatic rifles, two shotguns, and a lever-action weapon, she said, speaking to reporters in Wellington before heading to Christchurch.
“The mere fact… that this individual had acquired a gun licence and acquired weapons of that range, then obviously I think people will be seeking change, and I’m committing to that. While work is being done as to the chain of events that led to both the holding of this gun licence, and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now – our gun laws will change,” Jacinda Ardern told reporters.
What are the gun laws in New Zealand?
- Anyone over 16 can apply for a New Zealand firearms licence, valid for 10 years after completing a safety course and a police background check.
- Gun licenses are issued at the discretion of the police in New Zealand provided the police consider the person to be of good standing and without a criminal, psychiatric or drug issues as well as meeting other conditions such as having suitable storage facilities.
- Several different categories of licenses are permitted, with the lowest one permitting access to restricted semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, with limited capacity, while the higher levels which permit fully automatic weaponry and pistols are rarely issued to civilians.
- Once a licence has been issued, gun-owners can buy as many weapons as they want.
- While most guns don’t have to be registered, a special application does have to be made to police to own military-style semi-automatic weapons, pistols, or other restricted firearms.
- New Zealand tightened its gun laws to restrict access to semi-automatic rifles in 1992, two years after a mentally ill man shot dead 13 people in the southern town of Aramoana.
- But New Zealand’s firearms laws are lax compared to neighbouring Australia, which enacted a strict gun control regime in the wake of a similar massacre in 1996, and most other developed nations outside of the United States.
- Most guns do not require registration under New Zealand’s Arms Act and police do not know “how many legally or illegally owned firearms there are in New Zealand”, according to a police statement last year.
- In 2014, police estimated there were up to 1.2 million legal firearms in civilian ownership, or around one for every four members of the public — twice the per capita number of guns in Australia.
- Separate “endorsements” are required to own semi-automatic weapons like those used in Christchurch attack, as well as pistols and other restricted weapons. But police and firearms experts have pointed to several loopholes allowing owners to bypass registration of semi-automatics.
(Inputs from Agencies)