Prime Minister says NZ gun laws will change in wake of Christchurch terror attack

2019-03-16 01:02:33

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says gun laws will change after Friday's deadly mass shooting in Christchurch.

On Friday, a gunman opened fire at a mosque on Deans Ave in Christchurch killing 41 people.

A further seven people were killed at the Linwood Ave mosque. Another one person has since died in hospital, and a further 48 are injured, two in a critical condition.

A 28-year-old man has been charged with murder and appeared in court on Saturday morning.

On Saturday morning, the prime minister said the main suspect was in possession of a gun licence, obtained in November 2017 and had obtained firearms legally. Five guns were used in the attack including two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns. A lever action firearm was also found.

Ardern said more work would be done to trace the firearms but made one thing clear: "Our gun laws will change."

"There have been attempts to change our laws in 2005, 2012 and after an inquiry in 2017. Now is the time for change," she said.

The main accused was Australian-born and had been living in Dunedin. He and two other people currently in custody have no criminal records and were not on any watchlists.

The fourth person arrested was a member of the public with a firearm in the area who wished to assist police. He has since been released.

Ardern has asked the top level ODESC group to report to her on Monday with details of how the accused got into the country and obtained the guns. She is also seeking answers from intelligence agencies about whether any social media posts should have been picked up on and were not.

"Today as the country grieves we are seeking answers," she said.

"Our duty is to keep everyone here safe. We have failed here and questions will be asked."

Ardern would not give detail on exact changes at this early juncture.

"The mere fact that people of course hear that this individual acquired a gun licence and acquired weapons of that range then obviously people will seek change," Ardern said.

"My understanding is he held a category-A licence. My advice currently is that under that licence he was able to legally obtain the guns that he held. That will give you an indication of why we need to change our gun laws," Ardern said.

Asked if banning semi-automatic weapons was an option, Ardern said that was "certainly one of the issues" that would be looked at. She had not fully considered whether a buyback scheme, similar to Australia's after a mass shooting there in the late 1990s, would be appropriate.

A semi-automatic weapon allows shooters to discharge weapons at a much faster rate as they automatically reload the chamber after every shot is fired.

While semi-automatic weapons generally require an E-licence in New Zealand to obtain, there are some loopholes to this law.


Police Association President Chris Cahill welcomed the prime minister's commitment to changing New Zealand's gun laws.

"I absolutely agree with her and I believe many New Zealanders will be aghast that in our country someone can amass a cache of weapons like that discovered in this Christchurch tragedy," Cahill said.

"It is sickening that it has taken this horrific event to wake us up to our vulnerability. My first thoughts are with the families of those who have been killed or injured, and with our incredibly brave first responders – police officers, ambulance and hospital staff, and all those members of the public who helped in any way they could.

However, Cahill said the role of guns in the event could not be ignored and the debate the country was about to have on the access to certain firearms should be short and swift.

"As we enter that debate however, we need to be mindful of the welfare of victims and their families and the people of Christchurch for whom Friday's shocking events will remain raw for a very long time," he said.

"There is no place in the upcoming debate for the radical gun lobby which has made its presence felt in previous attempts to make our country safer.

"That input undoubtedly contributed to the rejection of most of the select committee recommendations on tightening our gun laws.

"We have seen what happens in the United States when gun radicals are involved. Nothing. That is not good enough for New Zealand."

"New Zealanders and our politicians now need to step in behind Prime Minister Ardern as she takes decisive action on access to lethal weapons. I can pledge that the association will do everything it can to assist her in cleaning up our gun laws."


The semi-automatic rifle type used in the Christchurch terror attack can be readily bought in New Zealand but its high-capacity magazines cannot, making it likely it was obtained illegally, a gun expert says.

Social media footage posted by one of the Christchurch mosque shooting suspects shows an arsenal of weapons used, including an AR15 semi-automatic rifle that is available in New Zealand.

However, when combined with the style of high-capacity magazines used in the attacks, it became an illegal weapon.

AR15s are a semi-automatic version of the United States military M16 rifle.

An AR-15 was used in Tasmania's Port Arthur killings, as well as the Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and San Bernadino massacres in the United States.

To obtain an AR-15 in New Zealand, buyers must have a standard, current firearms licence and an approved police order form.

A standard firearms licence allows the use of "A Category" firearms and are the vast majority of legally owned firearms in New Zealand.

To possess firearms of another category, one must receive an endorsement.

AR-15 style rifles are permitted in the A category provided they can only hold 7 or less rounds as well as meeting the other criteria

An E Category endorsement is needed if the magazine - which feeds ammunition into the chamber of the firearm - holds more than seven rounds.

An E category requires strict vetting of the owner and extra security. Reasons for it can be professional pest destruction or service rifle shooting.

A gun club president in the Nelson region said despite New Zealand's rigid gun ownership regulations, some underground and criminal factions of society managed to obtain illegal firearms from other sources, such as crews of overseas fishing boats.

"Our licensing laws are strict and it's very unusual for a licensed gun owner to be involved with crime - it's like a fraction of 1 per cent - anyone who's been through the mill there through the police and the guarantors, it's very unlikely that a person with a dodgy background could hold firearms legitimately."

He said all semi-automatic weapons like the AR15 were required to be registered with police in the owner's name and the serial number of the firearm.

"There are plenty of them around the world - but if you want one you have to have to have a squeaky clean record - that's very tightly controlled [but] it is very likely an illegally acquired firearm was used [in Christchurch] and that's part of what goes on in the criminal underworld."

Police have said the growing number of firearms stolen each year - 807 in 2017 compared to 505 in 2008 - also posed a risk of them being used for crime.

Anyone buying firearms or ammunition, whether privately or from a dealer, must show their firearms licence.

In addition, a permit to procure must be obtained prior to the transfer of pistols, military-style semi-automatics, and restricted weapons.

Sales can be made by mail-order, but a police officer must sign the order form to verify that the purchaser has a firearms licence.

Except under the direct supervision of a licence holder, any person who possesses or uses firearms needs to hold a licence issued by the police.

Of the estimated 1.5 million firearms owned in NZ, 15,000 are registered military-style semi-automatic rifles (MSSAs).

Registration is not required under the law but the police carry out a regime similar to registration for all but "A Category" firearms. Firearms in any other category require a "permit to procure" before they are transferred.

In 2017, a year-long parliamentary select committee into the possession of illegal firearms offered up 20 recommendations. Two-thirds were rejected by then-police minister Paula Bennett, who is a keen hunter.

In July 2017, Quinn Patterson killed Natanya and Wendy Campbell at his home near Whangarei. He had illegally acquired an A-category semi-automatic through using a friend's firearms licence, and then transformed it into an MSSA by adding a high-capacity magazine.

Police are pushing for tighter regulation of these parts, and have used Patterson's crime as an example.

Police would also like a compulsory register – an idea that has met with great opposition from the firearms community. Some argue such a measure is ineffective as criminals aren't minded to register their illegally held weapons.

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