Mass shooting shifts New Zealand's attitudes on gun reform

In the wake of a shooting that killed 49 people and injured dozens more, the New Zealand government has promised to tighten the country’s gun laws. Previous attempts to pass gun reform legislation has failed, but last week's shooting has swiftly altered public opinion.

Vincent Thian/AP
Mourners place candles outside the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 18, 2019 to commemorate victims of Friday's shooting. Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern has promised to enact stricter gun control measures, including the ban of semi-automatic rifles.

The New Zealand leader's promise of tightened gun laws in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings has been widely welcomed by a stunned population.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her Cabinet will consider the details of the changes on Monday. She has said options include a ban on private ownership of semi-automatic rifles that were used with devastating effect in Christchurch and a government-funded buyback of newly outlawed guns.

While curtailing gun owners' rights is a political battleground in the United States, Christchurch gun owner Max Roberts predicted Ms. Ardern won't face serious opposition to her agenda.

"There will be no opposition to it. There's no movement in New Zealand for that. Our media and politics are more left wing," said Mr. Roberts, a carpenter who uses guns for hunting.

Elliot Dawson, who survived the shooting at Christchurch's Linwood mosque by hiding in a bathroom, hopes New Zealand follows Australia's lead on gun control.

In Australia, a virtual ban on private ownership of semi-automatic rifles and a government-funded gun buyback cut the size of the country's civilian arsenal by almost a third.

The ban followed a 1996 massacre in which a lone gunman used assault rifles to kill 35 people in Tasmania state in 1996.

"Personally, I don't think guns should be legal at all. Maybe in some extreme self-defense, but I don't think they need such firearms like that," Mr. Dawson said. "New Zealand is not America. America is a totally different situation. I think in America it would be probably more dangerous to take people's guns away. But here, I don't think we need them at all."

Akshesh Sharma moved to Christchurch from Fiji to study. He was shocked that the shooter was able to get his hands on such military-style weapons.

Mr. Sharma agrees with the prime minister that gun laws need to be tightened.

"I don't see this as a place where you need guns to live to feel safe," Mr. Sharma said. "I can understand in the U.S. maybe, but here it's a different story."

Mr. Roberts, the gun owner, doubted banning certain types of weapons would be effective. But he said New Zealand should only allow its own citizens to buy guns. Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the Australian charged in the Christchurch shootings, obtained a New Zealand gun license in November 2017 and started legally amassing an arsenal of five guns within a month.

"I think when people harbor hate like, that these things are possible," Mr. Roberts said.

"Particularly Australian citizens, I don't understand how they can get access to firearms in New Zealand when New Zealand citizens can't get access to firearms in Australia," he added.

Ian Britton uses a rifle for shooting rabbits and target shooting. He favors outlawing assault rifles like those used in Christchurch because they're unnecessary.

"I can't use the words I'd like to use, but it's disgusting. I never thought I'd see that in this country," Mr. Britton said.

Ms. Ardern noted that attempts to reform had failed before under pressure from the gun lobby.

"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.

This story was reported by The Associated Press with contributions from Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia.

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