New Zealand’s top prosecutor said the country would seek a ban on semi-automatic weapons — a decision made less than 24 hours after a gunman opened fire inside a pair of mosques packed with Friday service worshipers.
Attorney General David Parker’s announcement during a vigil for victims of the mass shootings was met with cheers and applause from those gathered in Auckland’s Aotea Square, the New Zealand Herald reported.
“There is a dimming of enlightenment in many parts of the world,” he said. “How can it be right for this atrocity to be filmed by the murderer using a GoPro (camera) and live-streamed across the world by social media companies?”
His remarks echoed those of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who vowed New Zealand’s gun laws would change after the shooter killed 49 people in what Ardern called “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”
Police said the attacker gunned down 41 worshipers at the Al Noor mosque before driving about three miles across town and opening fire inside a mosque in Linwood, where another seven people died. One person struck by the gunfire died later at a local hospital.
The shooter, who published a rambling manifesto rife with anti-immigration sentiment and white supremacist ideology, identified himself as 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant online before his rampage in Christchurch Friday afternoon.
Ardern said he was armed with two semi-automatic weapons, two shotguns and one lever-action firearm — some of them adorned with white-supremacist graffiti. At least two rifles used in the shooting mention Ebba Akerlund, an 11-year-old girl killed in an April 2017 truck-ramming attack in Stockholm by Rakhmat Akilov, a 39-year-old Uzbek man
The number 14 also appeared on one of the gunman’s rifles, which could refer to “14 words” — a a white supremacist slogan linked to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Ardern, who did not identify the shooter by name, said he was able to legally obtain a gun license in November 2017 and started purchasing the weapons one month later.
“The individual has traveled around the world with sporadic periods of time spent in New Zealand,” she added. “They were not a resident of Christchurch.”
Tarrant, a native of Australia, was arrested alongside two other people in connection with the targeted attacks. He made his first court appearance Saturday morning, where he was hit with a first-degree murder charge.
“While work has been done as to the chain of events that led to both the holding of this gun license and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now — our gun laws will change,” Ardern declared at a news conference after the shootings. “There have been attempts to change our laws in 2005, in 2012 and after an inquiry in 2017… Now is that time for change.”
The New Zealand Police Association voiced its support for gun reform.
“There is no place in the upcoming debate for the radical gun lobby which has made its presences felt in previous attempts to make our country safer. The input undoubtedly contributed to the rejection of most of the select committee recommendations on tightening our gun laws,” the association’s president, Chris Cahill, said in a statement. “We have seen what happens in the United Sates when gun radicals are involved. Nothing. That is not good enough for New Zealand.”
New Zealanders are required to pass a background check — which investigates criminal, medical and mental health history as well as domestic violence records — before a firearm license is issued, according to GunPolicy.org. Applicants also have to take a test on firearm safety and the law, and must re-apply for their licenses every 10 years.
There is no limit however, on the number of guns or amount of ammunition a person can own. According to the Australian firearm prevention group, the minimum age for gun ownership is 16 years old.
Until Friday, New Zealand’s biggest massacre occurred nearly three decades ago, when a gunman killed 13 people in a shooting that preceded an arson attack. The incident sparked a reform to the nation’s gun laws, which include restrictions on military-style semiautomatic weapons, stricter storage requirements and other regulations.