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May 25, 2019

Mosque attacks highlight New Zealand’s gun laws, otherwise low murder rate — just 35 last year

March 15, 2019
Security officials guards one the mosque Masjif Al-Noor after a gunman filmed himself firing at worshipers inside in Christchurch on Friday. (Tessa Burrows / AFP/Getty Images)

The death toll in the New Zealand mosque shootings could potentially go up since dozens of people were being treated for gunshot wounds Friday. But the number of confirmed deaths, 49, already surpasses the country’s typical annual rate for firearm killings and overall murders.

The episode will likely ignite a debate on the country’s gun laws, which are stricter than those in the United States but allow even 16-year-olds to own a firearm.


The terrorist attack comes a year after New Zealand saw its lowest murder rate in four decades — 35 — and following years of single-digit gun homicides.

In a country of 4.8 million residents, police data show the country saw about seven murders for every million people in 2017. Between 2012 and 2016, firearm deaths ranged from four to nine a year, according to a 2018 report by New Zealand authorities.

Meanwhile, the country has plenty of weapons – about 1.2 million, according to one survey.

Retired FBI special agent James Gagliano, now a law enforcement analyst for CNN, told the network Friday morning that the country’s gun laws are pretty strict, but not as strict as Australia’s.

Firearms can be purchased by mail or via the internet and licenses can be issued to applicants as young as 16 years old.

“Clearly there will be a lot of questions how this gunman got his hand on so many weapons,” he said.

New Zealand’s gun regulations changed after a 1990 massacre in Aramoana, where a gunman killed 13 people in a shooting followed by an arson attack. The episode led to restrictions on military-style semiautomatic weapons, stricter storage requirements and other regulations.

“So you have to be a licensed gun owner there,” Gagliano said. “You have to have a criminal history background check before you can purchase a gun and a mental health review. You have to participate in a gun safety program. You have to give the authorities an explanation for how and why the gun will be used. Your residence has to be visited.”

Gun owners also need to get testimonials from friends and family about their mental health, he said.

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