After violent attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made efforts to enact stricter gun laws in the nation.
On March 15, an armed terrorist attacked Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, leaving 50 people wounded and killing another 50. It was described as “the darkest of days in New Zealand’s history.” Less than a month later, New Zealand’s parliament voted in favor of banning military-style semi-automatic weapons. The vote was 119 to 1; nearly unanimous.
“We are ultimately here because 50 people died, and they do not have a voice,” the Prime Minister told parliament. “We in this house are their voice, and today, we have used that voice wisely.”
Ardern says the mosque attacks have, “exposed a range of weaknesses in New Zealand’s gun laws,” according to NPR. She states that, “the clear lesson from history around the world is that to make our community safer the time to act is now.”
The quick action in New Zealand to reform gun laws after a mass shooting is observed to be quite different from the responses in the United States, where calls for stricter gun laws are often resisted by lawmakers and citizens alike. New Zealand already had strict gun laws to begin with. In order to get a gun in New Zealand, according to the New York Times, applicants must pass a background check that includes criminal, medical, mental health, and domestic violence records, as well as provide character references, allow themselves to be interviewed by government officials, pass an inspection of home security, take a gun safety course, and then wait weeks or even months to await approval for a firearms license. New Zealand first cracked down on their gun laws in 1996 when a gunman used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 35 people in Port Arthur. The new laws following this mass shooting prohibited all automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and enforced licensing regulations, background checks, and wait periods. Over 600,000 weapons were destroyed as the result of a gun buyback program.
However, according to New Zealand police data, “virtually everyone” who applies for a firearm license gets one. With a firearm license, individuals have access to powerful weapons like sniper rifles and armor-piercing bullets. The New York Times reports that most gun purchases in New Zealand are not tracked. “New Zealand is almost alone with the United States in not registering 96 percent of its firearms,” Philip Alpers from GunPolicy.org told the Times.
Ardern will reveal the details on the proposed gun laws in due time, though it is likely the focus will be on semi-automatic weapons. “I think what the public rightly are asking is why is it, and how is it, that you [are] currently able to buy semi-automatic military style weapons in New Zealand,” She said. “And that’s the right question to ask.”
New Zealand is a country with high rates of gun ownership, so it’s uncertain how the country will react. Ardern acknowledges this uncertainty. “I want to assure you that the work that we are doing is not directed at you. In fact, I strongly believe that the vast majority of gun owners in New Zealand will agree with the sentiment that change needs to occur.” Ardern also says, according to NPR, that guns can be surrendered to New Zealand police at any time.