Carnage in New Zealand

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, 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.

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.


  1. says

    This is Donald’s response…

    My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!

    “Warmest sympathy and best wishes…”

    This is Donald 20 minutes after he tweeted that…

    The ‘Jexodus’ movement encourages Jewish people to leave the Democrat Party. Total disrespect! Republicans are waiting with open arms. Remember Jerusalem (U.S. Embassy) and the horrible Iran Nuclear Deal! @OANN @foxandfriends”

    He then went on to rant about the Mueller investigation (“…..THIS SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN TO A PRESIDENT AGAIN!”) and then, finally about half an hour ago as I write this…

    I’d like to thank all of the Great Republican Senators who bravely voted for Strong Border Security and the WALL. This will help stop Crime, Human Trafficking, and Drugs entering our Country. Watch, when you get back to your State, they will LOVE you more than ever before!

    It’s one thing if he was simply a buffoon, but he can’t just leave his awfulness at the buffoonery level.

  2. says

    The ‘Jexodus’ movement encourages Jewish people to leave the Democrat Party. Total disrespect!

    Because nothing screams “respect” like using someone as a political poker-chip.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    Facetious suggestion: in the light of the atrocity, NZ should announce an immediate moratorium on immigration… from Australia.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    The Christchurch shootings highlight “the disparity between New Zealand gun laws and those of other developed nations”

    Civilised countries generally allow their citizens free access to firearms until such time as something sufficiently horrible happens to suggest curbs are needed -- then they enact curbs. What these shootings highlight about the gun laws is that so far, New Zealanders have shown they can be trusted with guns. And the actions of this nasty violent Australian haven’t actually changed that fact.

    Take a look at the Wikipedia page for “Massacres in New Zealand”. Until today, since World War Two, there have been (count ’em) seven. I wouldn’t mind betting there’ve been more than that in the USA since the beginning of this month. Three of those seven are referred to as “family murders”, with a family member the perp. One was an arson. And one was from the early 1950s.

    There has been just one American-style spree-shooting in New Zealand, just one “massacre” where the casualties reached double figures, and that was in 1990. Quoting Wikipedia again:

    After the shootings, sweeping changes were made to New Zealand’s firearms legislation in 1992, including 10 year photographic licences and tight restrictions on military style semi-automatic firearms

    Christchurch is, bar none and by a huge margin, the nicest, friendliest, safest-feeling city I have ever visited (I was there three weeks ago). I can only imagine the trauma this must cause to a people who simply aren’t used to this sort of thing. Having the whole bloody city literally shake and fall down around their ears didn’t seem to hold them down, though, so I’m sure they’ll come through it.

    Finally, since “thoughts and prayers” are worth what it cost me to type those letters, here’s something more concrete:

  5. DavidinOz says

    11 years of living and working in Christchurch, four of those on the opposite side of the ark to Deans Avenue Mosque. I often walked past and and noted that I would never be able to get a Taxi at fajr as it seemed evey taxi was parked there at that time.

    Most people are probably unaware that the Deans Ave Mosque was mostly attended by Muslims from the sub continent and Fiji.Around 2o years go a bunch of Muslims came from Auckland, flush with Wahabi money in an attempt to take over the mosque. After a bitter court battle, calmer heads prevailed and the wahhabists were sent packing.

    @sonofrojblake -- Air rifles and pistols could be bought without a licence, including one powerful enough to kill a police officer.

    Also worthy of noting -- NZ Police on routine patrol are unarmed. Police vehicles carry firearms in a safe in the boot (trunk) of their car. These may only be access with permission from a Sergeant or above. The NZ police have an Armed Offenders Squad that is made up of ordinary police with additional training who are mobilised in events such as these. look at the photos of the police response, no military equipment, no heavy armour, just everyday heroes with a bullet proof vest and a short sleeve shirt.

  6. mastmaker says

    Bangladeshi cricket team narrowly escaped being in the mosque at that time. Which resulted in espncricinfo is covering the event extensively.
    On a more serious note: When will we reach the point where we remove all the guns (except hunting rifles and such and allowed only in wilderness) from everywhere?

  7. lanir says

    @mastmaker: We’ll probably remove guns about when people start to realize that nearly everything about guns is an everyday horror show. The fearful people who want one (or a dozen) for protection mostly seem to get it for an elaborate and potentially dangerous placebo effect. The people who get one because they’re deeply concerned about crime are just waiting and not-so-secretly hoping for some excuse to commit murder. The hobbyists have kind of randomly attached cultural meaning to guns and seem conflicted about whether their feelings count for more than the vast impact gun violence has on our culture overall. The people who pick up a gun without going through gun safety training first and can’t be bothered to understand why it’s a problem that a tool with no purpose other than ending life is treated far more casually than a car.

    It’s all variations on a theme. Personal feelings put before the safety of others. It’s selfish, petty and boring but if you tell anyone that you’ll hurt their feelings. Which, remember, they probably hold in higher regard than your safety. And they’re the bozos with the weapons.

  8. sonofrojblake says

    @lanir, 8: that is rather blinkered and ignorant, and using this tragedy to advance your (I assume) pre-existing anti-gun position is horrible. New Zealand is not just the USA with a funny accent. You make a list of gun owner types, but you’re either being deliberately disingenuous or simply didn’t think, at all.

    For starters, saying “nearly everything about guns is an everyday horror show” is simply false, and for bonus points an insult to the people of New Zealand. Again I shall point out that New Zealanders own guns in huge numbers (per capita -- the entire country has a population a little over half that of New York City), and yet their police go routinely unarmed and the country is peaceful and pleasant. Mass shootings by New Zealanders since Queen Elizabeth came to the throne can be counted on one hand. For a proper American-style spree you’ll need just the thumb of that hand. And that number hasn’t gone up recently. That’s not even an every DECADE horror show. If you have any regard for facts, the problem is demonstrably NOT the guns.

    Secondly, you conveniently ignore the fact that a huge part of New Zealand’s economy is farming, and farmers need guns. You describe a gun as “a tool with no purpose other than ending life” as though you simply cannot imagine any scenario whereby ending a life (a non-human life) may be necessary.

    Thirdly, you either don’t know or don’t care that hunting large non-native mammals is a hugely popular activity in NZ, both for NZers and tourists, especially for red deer which are considered a pest. Again, hunters in New Zealand have demonstrated over decades that they can be trusted with the tools they use. They’d be justified in being annoyed if the actions of one foreigner, however horrible, curtailed their freedom to do something they’ve been doing safely for decades. That’s not to say I think they WOULD be annoyed -- my impression of New Zealanders is that if the government banned hunting rifles they’d grumble a bit, nod sadly, and pick up a compound bow.

    As I write, Ardern has already announced gun laws around semi-automatic rifles will tighten. That would be unlikely to significantly affect hunting or farming uses. (Farmers would typically have most use for shotguns, and for hunting a bolt-action is good enough. Why have a semi-auto then? For the same reason you’d have a car with automatic transmission -- convenience.)

    It’s tacky and gross to use this as an opportunity for an anti-gun rant when you’re talking about a country that clearly doesn’t have a problem with guns.

  9. file thirteen says

    I live in Christchurch. I have been silent on the issue because I simply haven’t known what to say that hasn’t be said many times already. I’ve thought of something now.

    The country of your birth, or your nationality, doesn’t matter. The colour of your skin doesn’t matter. And your religion or lack of it doesn’t actually matter either.

    There are different divisions. There are smart people, and stupid people. There are kind people, and cruel people. There are decent people, and murdering fuckwits, and the murdering fuckwits can be of any nationality, religion or skin colour. And if you thought differently, fucking wise up. That is all.

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