Asia-Pacific

New Zealand's Ardern vows gun law reform after Christchurch terror attack

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New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to change the nation's gun laws after confirming the "primary perpetrator" in Christchurch's terror attack used five weapons.

In the wake of New Zealand's worst mass shooting in history, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has promised to move quickly to strengthen national security through measures like working with Australia. 

"I can tell you one thing right now, our gun laws will change. There have been attempts to change our laws in 2005, 2012 and after an inquiry in 2017. Now is the time for change," Ms Ardern told reporters in Wellington on Saturday morning.

Australia changed its gun laws after the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre. Ms Ardern said authorities will be reviewing how the accused gunman accessed five firearms.

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Jacinda Ardern addresses the media on Christchurch attack
Jacinda Ardern addresses the media on Christchurch attack

Access to purchases of multiple fire arms scrutinised

Advised the gunman obtained a Category A gun licence in November 2017, Ms Ardern said it was "under that, he was able to acquire the guns that he held".

"When people, of course, hear that this individual had acquired a gun licence and acquired weapons of that range, then obviously I think people will be seeking change, and I'm committing to that," she said.

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Christchurch shooting: 49 dead in terrorist attack at two mosques
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She said questions must also be asked on how the 28-year-old Australian citizen was able to enter New Zealand.

A report on the sequence of events on the South Island is being prepared for Monday by the country's primary governance board overseeing national security, the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Coordination (ODESC).

"To strengthen us on a number of fronts, including but not limited to enhanced border controls, sharing with Australia, and any practical reinforcement of our watch list processes," she said.

Earlier attempts at NZ gun reform fail

National Deputy Director of the Australian Institute of International Affairs Dr Bryce Wakefield said New Zealand's gun laws "were known for being particularly lax".

"In NZ you don’t have to register the fire arms that you own, you simply have to have a license in order to buy a weapon," Dr Wakefield told SBS News.

"That means there are unregistered guns around the country.

"Nobody really knows the number of guns in NZ."

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This is one of New Zealand's darkest days: Ardern
This is one of New Zealand's darkest days: Ardern

Mr Wakefield, who was born in New Zealand, said his birth country missed an opportunity when it failed to follow Australia's example on gun reform following the Port Arthur massacre.

"An expert testified before parliament in 2016 that it was only a matter of time before a mass shooting occurred in New Zealand," he told SBS News.

Mr Wakefield, who was born in New Zealand, said experts have long warned New Zealand of the risk of an attack. 

"An expert testified before parliament in 2016 that it was only a matter of time, before a mass shooting occurred in NZ," he said.

"About 30 years ago we had an attack in a rural community in Aramoana but that was not, as this was, politically motivated and far fewer people died then."

Gun laws in New Zealand

With Australia's gun laws dramatically changing following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania, many have questioned why New Zealand has not followed suit earlier.

In New Zealand, the minimum age to own a gun is 16 or 18 for military-grad semi-automatic weapons.

A licence must be obtained, however New Zealand is one of the few countries where most individual weapons don’t have to be registered.

A background check for firearm licence applicants is undertaken - including a check of medical and criminal records, as well as a character reference.

But once passed, the licence holder can buy as many weapons as they please.

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Leaders condemn Christchurch mosque shootings
Leaders condemn Christchurch mosque shootings

Due to this, the number of firearms in New Zealand is largely unknown, although a May 2018 report by New Zealand police recorded approximately 254, 940 active firearm licences. This report which detailed licences since 2008, showed only 1764 licence applications had been refused.

According to gunpolicy.org, in 2017,the estimated rate of both registered and illicit private gun ownership in New Zealand per 100 people is 33.26.

In 2017, 43, 509 people applied for firearms licences, with 43,321 having one issued.

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Police search attack suspect residence in Dunedin, New Zealand
Police search attack suspect residence in Dunedin, New Zealand

Additional reporting: AAP

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