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In one day, more people were murdered in New Zealand than are usually killed in an entire year

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/15/2019 Rick Noack, Siobhán O'Grady
a close up of a map: . © The Washington Post/ .

When a gunman opened fire on a mosque in New Zealand on Friday, and a second mosque came under attack, the resulting death toll of at least 49 people meant that more were killed on one day than are usually murdered in an entire year in the country, according to national police statistics.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the public on Friday evening local time, calling it “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”

Three suspects are in custody, and one man, the only one so far charged with murder in the case, released a manifesto online hinting at the years-long relative peacefulness in New Zealand as one motive for the attack, which he suggested would show “that nowhere in the world was safe.” His claim echoed remarks by an apparent role model, Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people — many of them teenagers — in 2011. Norway has roughly the same population as New Zealand, and an even lower murder rate.

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The easy access to guns and Friday’s attack may result in calls for a rethink of authorities’ approach to gun laws and their own equipment. While New Zealand’s gun laws have triggered tense but restrained debates in the past, nowhere has the conversation been so heated and ideological as in the United States.

Slideshow by photo services

While New Zealand has had some cases of residents joining jihadist militant groups, the threat of terrorist attacks has consistently been regarded as low. The European debate over the cycle of crimes blamed on migrants and right-wing violence has largely been unknown in New Zealand, where the far right remains marginalized. Instead, authorities have predominantly focused on bringing down the number of incarcerated indigenous Maori people, who are disproportionately represented in the country’s prisons.

Until recently, police in New Zealand have not felt the need to carry firearms on duty. Last month, however, the Canterbury district on New Zealand’s southern island broke with that protocol after a series of incidents that left one shooting suspect on the loose.

At the time, New Zealand Police Association President Chris Cahill told Reuters that “more and more policemen are finding criminals with guns, so unless we find a way of stopping these firearms from reaching, them we will have no other choice but to arm our officers.”

Local media reported that approximately 1.5 million firearms are held by civilians in the country, averaging out to approximately one gun per three people in the country of around 5 million.

In his manifesto, the man charged with murder implicitly hoped for a debate about guns.

“I chose firearms for the affect it would have on social discourse, the extra media coverage they would provide and the effect it could have on the politics of United States and thereby the political situation of the world,” the manifesto says. The implied hope was that the debate may eventually escalate tensions between supporters of gun rights and opponents, and result in a civil-war-like violence worse than one attacker or group would be capable of.

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