Wellington, March 16 (IANS) New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Saturday said gun laws would change in the country as her government announced it will ban semi-automatic rifles in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack that left 49 people dead.
“There were five guns used by the primary perpetrator,” she said at a news conference here. “There were two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns. The offender was in possession of a gun licence. I’m advised this was acquired in November of 2017. A lever-action firearm was also found.”
She said the prime suspect, identified as 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, obtained a gun licence in November 2017 and began purchasing guns legally in December 2017.
“While work is being done as to the chain of events that lead to both the holding of this gun licence and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now. Our gun laws will change,” Ardern said.
She said the proposed reforms, which will be the focus of a Cabinet meeting on Monday, will also focus on the ease with which legal weapons can be modified to become military-style assault rifles, which are more strictly controlled.
Meanwhile, authorities in both Australia and New Zealand were asked to review why the suspect was not listed on any counter-terrorism watchlist, despite reportedly planning the attack for several years.
Tarrant identified himself as a member of online far-right extremist networks and the massacre was live-streamed on social media.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush told reporters that the guns used in the killings were able to be purchased legally under a “category-A” licence, which is the entry-level gun licence in New Zealand and does not require a licence holder to register their weapons.
However, the weapons were not legal as they were found by the police after the attack.
“A category-A firearm holder can purchase the firearms without the magazines or the things that will enable them to be in the state that they were,” Bush said.
The sale of normal semi-automatic guns is not restricted in New Zealand. The same weapons can only be acquired by licensed professional hunters in Australia, and must be individually imported.
University of Sydney gun control expert Philip Alpers, the founder of global site gunpolicy.org, told the Guardian that Ardern had the opportunity to introduce sweeping gun reform, starting with the restriction of semi-automatic rifles and the creation of a central gun register, provided she “acted quickly”.