You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Top Stories

New Zealand gun laws face scrutiny after Christchurch attack

The Guardian logo The Guardian 4 days ago Lois Beckett
UP NEXT
UP NEXT

Watch: World reacts to Christchurch terror attacks (PA)

The toll of 49 dead and more injured in mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques will put renewed scrutiny on New Zealand’s gun laws – particularly the debate over restrictions on military-style rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines, which are frequently used in mass shooting attacks worldwide.

Civilians in New Zealand own an estimated 1.2m firearms, according to the 2017 Small Arms Survey. That makes New Zealand’s per capita rate of gun ownership higher than Australia’s, but still far below the US, where there is more than one gun per person in civilian ownership.

Police stand guard on a street near the Christchurch mosque which came under attack. © Radio NZ/AFP/Getty Police stand guard on a street near the Christchurch mosque which came under attack.

The Christchurch shootings highlight “the disparity between New Zealand gun laws and those of other developed nations”, Philip Alpers, an Australian researcher and the founding director of GunPolicy.org, which tracks gun laws worldwide, wrote in an email.

___________________

More on this story: 

LIVE: World leaders react to 'senseless act of violence' (Evening Standard)

Dramatic moment police arrest shooting suspect (Daily Mail)

'Standing together': UK police patrol mosques (Independent)

_________________

Unlike the UK and Australia, New Zealand does not ban the ownership of semi-automatic military-style “assault weapons”. Most guns can be legally sold on the internet or through newspaper ads. Any person aged 16 or over with an entry-level firearm licence can keep any number of common rifles and shotguns without having to register them. a man wearing a military uniform: Armed police outside a mosque in Manurewa in Auckland, New Zealand. © Getty Images Armed police outside a mosque in Manurewa in Auckland, New Zealand.

“New Zealand’s decision not to register 96% of civilian firearms makes it a standout exception, alone with the United States and Canada,” Alpers wrote.

Over the past year, New Zealand has seen a renewed debate over what police have called loopholes in the way military-style semi-automatic rifles are defined by law. Possession of these “MSSA” rifles is supposed to be subject to a higher level of scrutiny from the police, and there are only about 15,000 registered military-style rifles in civilian hands, as of last year.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern addresses the media after the Christchurch attacks. © Getty New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern addresses the media after the Christchurch attacks.

But because of the way military-style rifles are defined by law, guns with slightly different features but virtually the same function can fall outside of the stricter regulations. Both police and firearms enthusiasts noted that a rifle could be transformed into a MSSA simply by adding a larger-capacity ammunition magazine.

In 1997, a review of New Zealand gun laws commissioned by police officials recommended that MSSA rifles be banned and subject to a mandatory buyback. But none of the recommendations of that report have been implemented, Alpers said.

Police stand guard in Christchurch. © Getty Police stand guard in Christchurch.

The country’s gun laws have remained largely unchanged since 1992, when controls were tightened after the 1990 Aramoana massacre, in which an unemployed man killed 13 people with a semi-automatic rifle.

A briefing document sent recently to a New Zealand police minister complained that gaps in the law had already been exploited in violent incidents, and noted that “purchase of high-capacity magazines is unregulated and does not require a firearms license”, Stuff.co.nz reported last year.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The Guardian

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon