I have been to New Zealand many times because my wife’s family lives there and she goes there every year. The impression one has is of a bucolic, sheep-dominated, pastoral country, somewhat sleepy and relaxed, the kind of place one might retire to if one were seeking peace and quiet. So the news this morning of the murder of 49 people at two mosques and the injuring of roughly the same number in that country came as a shock.
I had not realized that when it comes to gun laws, New Zealand is much closer to the US in their laxity than to its nearest neighbor Australia.
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.
The Christchurch shootings highlight “the disparity between New Zealand gun laws and those of other developed nations”, said Philip Alpers, an Australian researcher and the founding director of GunPolicy.org, which tracks gun laws worldwide.
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.
“New Zealand’s decision not to register 96% of civilian firearms makes it a standout exception, alone with the United States and Canada,” Alpers said.
The initial reports (that should always be treated with some caution) suggest that the shooter was an Australian right wing, white supremacist, who saw himself as part of a global movement. As we have seen in the US so many times, white nationalist sentiment plus easy access to high-powered weaponry is a lethal combination. He apparently had a manifesto that spoke of ‘ethnic and cultural genocide’, echoing the chants of the Charlottesville mob in the US who are fanning fears that there is a plot to destroy white Christians.
Tree Of Life Synagogue:
Mother Emanuel AME Church:
Oak Creek Sikh Temple:
Overland Park Jewish Center:
Islamic Center of Quebec City:
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) March 15, 2019
I suspect that unlike in the US where the only response by feckless politicians to this kind of massacre are to offer ‘thoughts and prayers’, this shooting will lead to rapid action on curbing access to guns in New Zealand, like what happened in Australia after a mass shooting there many years ago.
I have no doubt that Donald Trump will, like he did after Charlottesville, find some way to avoid condemning white supremacists who are, after all, his supporters and will instead offer some tepid words. You can be sure that it will be nothing like what the New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said.
New Zealand PM: “Many of those who will have been directly affected by the shooting may be migrants to New Zealand. They may even be refugees here … They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.”https://t.co/roABvN4H5c pic.twitter.com/Wm6E1Zckh9
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 15, 2019