When a gunman opened fire on a mosque in New Zealand on Friday, and a second mosque came under attack, the resulting death toll of at least 49 people meant that more were killed on one day than are usually murdered in an entire year in the country, according to national police statistics.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the public Friday evening local time, calling it “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
Only hours later, on Saturday morning, Ardern announced that New Zealand’s gun laws would be changed, as she confirmed that the attacker held a firearms license. The quick response marked a stark contrast to reactions by other leaders in countries where mass shootings have occurred, who often respond far more cautiously to demands to reform gun ownership laws.
Three suspects are in custody, and the man who held a firearms license, according to Ardern, released a manifesto online hinting at the years-long relative peacefulness in New Zealand as one motive for the attack, which he suggested would show “that nowhere in the world was safe.” His claim echoed remarks by an apparent role model, Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people – many of them teenagers – in 2011. Norway has roughly the same population as New Zealand and an even lower murder rate.
In the coming days, debate over New Zealand’s gun laws is likely to intensify in response to the massacre and Ardern’s announcement.
“I can’t imagine a country less likely to let this slide than New Zealand,” said Philip Alpers, a New Zealander professor at the University of Sydney who founded a website that tracks gun policy worldwide. “Jacinda Ardern is not likely to say ‘our thoughts and prayers are with you’ and then move on,” Alpers said before Ardern’s announcement that laws would have to change.
In New Zealand, gun owners must be licensed to carry guns and gun ownership is seen as a conditional privilege, but firearms do not have to be registered. Gun licenses are valid for 10 years, and Alpers said the process for licensing involves interviews with individuals who have intimate relationships with prospective gun owners, including spouses, ex-spouses and roommates.
SOURCE: Rick Noack and Siobhán O’Grady
The Washington Post