New Zealand to further tighten gun laws after mosque shooting

New legislation includes creation of registry to monitor and track every firearm legally held in New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Attends New Zealand Wars Commemorative Plaque Unveiling
Ardern also announced more funding to meet mental health needs of people affected by the shooting [File: Hagen Hopkins/Getty]

New Zealand‘s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced legislation on Friday that aims to further tighten the country’s gun laws, six months after the mass shooting in Christchurch that left 51 Muslim worshippers dead.

Weak laws on firearms were identified as a key reason why a self-proclaimed white supremacist was able to own semi-automatic weapons, which he then used to kill people gathered at two mosques for Friday prayers on March 15.

Australian Brenton Tarrant has been charged for the attack and has pleaded not guilty. His trial will begin in June 2020.

The government had near-unanimous parliamentary support when it earlier banned military-style semi-automatics (MSSAs) in the first round of reforms, which took place within weeks of the attack, New Zealand’s worst peacetime, peacekeeping, peacekeepers mass shooting.

“Owning a firearm is a privilege not a right,” Ardern said in a statement announcing the latest reforms on Friday.

“That attack exposed weaknesses in legislation, which we have the power to fix. We would not be a responsible government if we didn’t address them,” she said.

The new bill, details of which have already been made public, will have its first reading on September 24 and includes the creation of a registry to monitor and track every firearm legally held in New Zealand.

It also tightens rules on a licensing and will mean individuals have to renew their licence every five years instead of every 10. 

Resistance growing

But Ardern is now facing more resistance from the federal opposition National party and gun lobby groups, who have indicated they will not support tighter gun laws because they claim they target law-abiding firearm owners, a charge rejected by Ardern.

There has also been criticism of the government’s firearm buy-back scheme under which gun owners have until December 20 to hand in weapons that are now banned.

More than 19,100 firearms and about 70,800 gun accessories have been handed in so far, which some critics say are fewer than expected.

With a population of just under five million and an estimated 1.5 million firearms, New Zealand is 17th in the world in terms of civilian gun ownership, according to the Small Arms Survey.

Ardern, who was in Christchurch to mark six months since the March attack, also announced more funding to meet the mental health needs of people affected by the shooting.

“It’s vital that survivors, families, the Muslim community and the people of Christchurch know that we will be there to support them for the long-haul,” she said.

The 39-year-old leader has been cheered globally for her compassionate and heartfelt support for victims of the mass shooting.

Months after the attacks, however, criticism has been mounting over the aftermath, including a prolonged legal process and the handling of a government inquiry into the shooting spree.

Source: Reuters