The 15th of March 2019 is now marked as one of the darkest day for New Zealanders, as they experienced their first ever racially-charged terrorist attack. The gunman open fired inside Masjid al Noor mosque in central Christchurch, killing 41 people, along with another 7 being murdered at a second mosque 5 kilometres away. The terrorists chose Friday for their attack as it is a holy day for Islam where many gather for afternoon prayers, with Masjid al Noor mosque holding one of New Zealand’s largest congregations.
The New Zealand police currently have the main offender in custody, and have charged him with murder. The gunman is a 28 year old Australian, who published a manifesto on Twitter a few minutes before the attack, where he stated his motivation for choosing his targets. Accompanying it had been a 17 minute live stream of the violence taken using the offender’s helmet. Telecommunications companies in New Zealand are now actively taking down sites attempting to share the video.
New Zealand’s Prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced during a press conference that the country’s gun policy will change as a result of this tragedy. She disclosed that the gunman had indeed be in possession of a firearms licence, and had legally obtained all the weapons that were used.
According to Newshub, the offender owned two semi-automatic rifles, two shotguns, and a bolt-action rifle. A local writer, William L., explains that the shooter had been able to exploit a vital loophole in New Zealand’s firearms regulation, which allowed him to purchase high capacity magazines without any background check or firearm licence. It is not illegal to possess firearms, so long as the owner has an “A-category firearms licence” which is considered for sporting purposes only, and it only becomes illegal when the owner attaches the magazine to their rifle.
This Christchurch tragedy revealed the devastating flaw in New Zealand’s firearms laws. Ardern has yet to reveal what the precise changes will be, but when asked whether banning semi-automatic weapon would be an option, she replied that it is “certainly one of the issues”. This move has also been supported by the Police Association, who stated that debates should remain short and swift. Chris Cahill, the association’s President, declared, “There is no place in the upcoming debate for the radical gun lobby which has made its presence felt in previous attempts to make our country safer. That input undoubtedly contributed to the rejection of most of the select committee recommendations on tightening our gun laws.”
Whether real changes will be made as a response must be monitored. However, in the meantime, public expressions of love, sympathy and compassion coming from the public suggest that reform is highly supported. New Zealanders have raised $4 million towards the Muslim community, and have shown their support by laying flowers in front of mosques. The message that these actions send is clear — Muslims are welcomed, loved, and protected in the country, and that, despite the hatred behind the attack, New Zealand Muslims do not stand alone.