New Zealand’s prime minister says the government will strengthen the country’s gun laws following the deaths of 49 people in a terrorist attack by a far-right extremist.
In press briefing on Saturday, Jacinda Ardern said a man had been arrested and charged with murder following the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. Police were still making inquiries to determine whether two other people arrested were directly involved with the incident. A fourth person has now been released.
News agencies reported that the main suspect Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, appeared in court on Saturday amid strict security. Associated Press said the Australian citizen showed no emotion when the judge read him one murder charge. The judge said “it was reasonable to assume” more such charges would follow.
Mr Tarrant was remanded without a plea and will remain in custody until his next court appearance on April 5.
Earlier Ms Ardern said it was time to change the gun laws in New Zealand, noting the alleged perpetrator of the attacks owned a gun licence that was acquired in November 2017.
“I’m advised that there were five guns used by the primary perpetrator. There were two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns. The offender was in possession of a gun licence,” she said.
“While work is being done as to the chain of events that led to both the holding of this gun licence, and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now. Our gun laws will change.”
There have been attempts to change New Zealand’s gun laws in 2005, 2012 and after an inquiry in 2017. But the gun lobby is strong in the country, where hunting is a national pastime, and it is one of the few countries in the developed world not to insist on universal registration of all firearms.
Philip Alpers, an expert in gun control at the University of Sydney in Australia, said under current laws in New Zealand any person aged 16 or over with an entry-level firearm licence can keep any number of common rifles and shotguns without an official record of those guns being kept anywhere.
“New Zealand’s decision not to register 96 per cent of civilian firearms makes it a standout exception, alone with the US and Canada,” he said.
Ms Ardern said tightening gun control was one of several measures the government was looking at to strengthen security in the wake of the terrorist attack. Wellington’s security and intelligence committee would report to cabinet on Monday on the sequence of events with a view to strengthening New Zealand’s laws on firearms, border controls, enhanced information sharing with Australia and any practical reinforcement of its watch list processes, she said.
The government’s action follows concerns expressed by security analysts about the ability of a foreign citizen to carry out such a brazen and co-ordinated attack.
Australia tightened its gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 when 35 people were shot dead.