Christchurch attack: Government announces possible gun law changes

2019-03-18 07:33:42

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says several "in principle decisions" on gun law reform have been made by Cabinet, but would not give any detail.

The changes come in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack which has left 50 people dead.

Ardern made the quasi-announcement following an extended Cabinet meeting with ministers on Monday, which was widened to include Confidence and Supply partners the Green Party.

She said changes would be properly announced ahead of next week's Cabinet meeting on Monday – within 10 days of Friday's attack.

The prime minister noted this would be faster than the 12 days it took Australia to announce changes made after the Port Arthur massacre.

Ardern, who appeared alongside Deputy Prime Minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters, said there was no disagreement around the Cabinet table on the decision.

"Within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism we will have announced reforms that I think will make New Zealanders safer," Ardern said.

"In the intervening period we will be working hard and as quickly as we can to finalise some of the details around the decision Cabinet has made today and the consequences of it."

Ardern said she realised this period would create uncertainty for gun owners. She said the changes would not be aimed at responsible gun owners.

Peters, who has in the past opposed gun law reform, said that on Friday "our whole world changed. And some of our laws will as well".

Ardern applauded those who had voluntarily surrendered their guns to police since the attack. She advised against prospective gun-owners making purchasing decisions in the coming days. INQUIRY ANNOUNCED

There will also be an inquiry looking into the specific circumstances leading up to the terror attack on March 15.

The key agencies taking part included the New Zealand SIS, GCSB, police, Customs and Immigration.

"The purpose of this inquiry is to look at what all relevant agencies knew or could or should have known; about the individual and his activities; including his access to weapons and whether they could have been in a position to prevent the attack," Ardern said.

The inquiry would find out if there were any impediments to the sharing of information, such as legislative or intelligence sharing challenges, she said.

It would also look at the individual's travel movements to and from New Zealand, internationally, his activities in New Zealand, his use of social media and his connection to others.

The terms of reference were currently being finalised.

Decisions who would lead the inquiry and what form it will take, would be made shortly, she said.

There were three options: Royal Commission, Public Inquiry or Ministerial Inquiry, she said.

There were few difference between a Royal Commission and Public Inquiry but a ministerial inquiry would give a little more ability to manage timelines and a few more options around the management of classified information, she said.

"Our key considerations will be public confidence in the work, timeliness and the management of classified information."

The public deserved answers and that's why Cabinet made the decision to have an inquiry, she said.

Ardern also said there will not be a memorial day this week, but it will happen as soon as possible.

She said Facebook and other social media sites must do more to fight hate speech, given a video of the shooting circulated online. She said these companies "have to step up". Peters said our "whole world changed" on Friday – noting that "our laws will too."


The man charged with murder in connection with the attacks was able to obtain all five guns he was arrested with legally, after obtaining a A-Class licence in November 2017.

Police believe some of the guns were modified to upgrade A-Class semi-automatic rifles into full military-style weapons with large magazines of ammunition.

This would be technically illegal, but the purchase of the larger magazines of ammunition themselves would not be thanks to loopholes in current law.

New Zealand law requires all gun owners to be registered, but doesn't require registration of each firearm.

One Saturday, Ardern promised change to gun laws in the wake of the Friday massacre.

Australia implemented a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons and established a registry of all firearms after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

The Australian Government then implemented a mandatory buyback scheme were guns that were now illegal were purchased at a fair market price by the Government and destroyed.

New Zealand has attempted serious gun law reform several times.

The Arms Act was amended in 1992 to restrict firearms such as the AK-47 used by David Gray at Aramoana two years earlier, but further recommendations by Justice Thomas Thorp in 1997 were never enacted.

An Arms Amendment Bill, introduced in 2005, languished until it was dismissed in 2012. Every year since 2010, government proposals for changes to legislation have been drawn up, and then quietly dropped.

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