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Six months after the Christchurch terrorist attacks, New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern marked the anniversary by announcing new legislation intended to place restrictions on gun ownership. Ardern also revealed that the new legislation will dedicate more resources and funding towards mental health services, as well as the creation of a gun registry system.
In this proposal to cease the flow of illegal firearms purchased through the black market, the register would require all gun holders to disclose their legal firearms, thus agreeing to be monitored and tracked by authorities. Under the new bill, Kiwi gun owners would additionally be required to renew their licences every five years, instead of every 10.
“We know that the majority of gun crime is committed by people without a licence, with firearms that have either been stolen or traded illegally,” Ardern stated while in Christchurch on Friday. In specifying that the bill would implement “a number of significant changes”—all which Police Minister Stuart Nash deemed essential “to ensure the safety of all New Zealanders”—Ardern guaranteed that only those who were “honest, law-abiding citizens” would be able to use and obtain firearms and the required licences.
Inclusive of granting police new powers to assign warning flags over suspicious persons, the registry system is akin to the vehicle registration process: an owner’s name, date of birth, address(es) and firearms licence number would be available on and offline. Sales, purchases, imports, exports and transfers of firearms will also be recorded, and private selling of legal firearms still permitted.
This commitment to gun reformation was not a view shared by the federal opposition. National Party leader, Simon Bridges stated that they are “very reluctant and I think very unlikely to support the next law changes.” Bridges declared that the proposed measures unnecessarily target the “good law-abiding gun owners,” and should, instead, make a proactive effort to address “the baddies; the criminals, the gangs and the extremists.”
Bridges comments signpost not only an end to a bipartisan agreement for stricter gun laws in New Zealand: they are also indicative of the growing sentiment of resistance felt amongst Kiwis. In the first round of tranches swiftly introduced in the weeks after the March terrorist attacks, there was little debate about the need to reform the Arms Act 1983. The legislature was no longer fit for purpose. The government passed a ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles, with almost all of the parliament supporting these urgent measures.
The gun buyback initiative—which started in June—has been met with some Kiwis expressing their resentfulness for being associated with “some crazy person [who] has come along and done something despicable.” Bridges and his party have capitalised on this discontentment, labelling it as a “fiasco” due to the smaller than anticipated number of owners who are wilfully resigning their soon-to-be illegal firearms. However, as one gun owner explained “in the beginning [I was] a little bit resentful […] it’s a sacrifice. I’m giving it in because I’m law-abiding. But hey, I do recognise that the person that caused that massacre down in Christchurch used the most effective firearms…I don’t know why people have been able to have access to big magazines.”
As apart of his white supremacist manifesto, weak laws on firearms were identified as a key motivator for the lone Christchurch gunman: his terrorist actions were specific to target mosques and Muslims during Friday afternoon prayers. The attacks killed 51 people and injured 49. Included in her announcements were her plans to provide more mental health services to those impacted from the Christchurch terror attacks.
While speculations surround whether the bill will be successful, what is clear is that the Prime Minister has dealt with the worst mass murder in New Zealand’s modern history, with poise and empathy. As she stood alongside Kiwi Muslims in the days that followed—mourning the devastating and untimely loss of the community—Ardern embodied the nation’s pain. Her actions continue to evidence how Ardern is a symbol for tolerance and progress, in a current political climate which is increasingly defined through its reactive, nationalistic driven policies and rhetoric.
As Ardern reflected upon the horrific events of March 15, the Prime Minister declared that “owning a firearm is a privilege not a right. [….] That attack exposed weaknesses in legislation which we have the power to fix. We would not be a responsible government if we didn’t address them.”