Gun control has been a very decisive subject around the world for quite some time. This issue has been hotly debated in the US in particular, as the country has witnessed several high profile public shootouts that have claimed hundreds of lives. While pro-gun advocates have long argued that troubled people are to blame for these incidents, those in support of greater checks and balances on guns argue that the prevalence of such lethal weapons around the country is the main cause behind the rise in gun related violence.
While this is one debate that may take years to determine, research has proven that the mere possession of firearms does make it more likely that the owner may shoot another person or themselves by accident, as opposed to someone who does not own any type of guns. It is also clear that if and when firearms are made available to the general public without putting in to place specific safe guards or background checks to determine the suitability of a potential buyer, then there is always going to be a risk involved as to how or for what purpose they might be used in the future.
In New Zealand, firearms have never really been a topic for debate, as they have been in the US. Due to the remoteness of certain regions, and their widespread use, firearms are quite easily available, however they do require a license to operate. This license also does require background checks that include checking for history of any mental health issues, criminal behavior or drug use, and each new firearm is required to be registered with the state. However, it is commonly accepted that the majority of households with firearms have failed to fulfill this specific requirement, and may have more ammo and guns than is officially stated.
This is perhaps why, on the morning of March 15, everybody was taken by surprise when a lone gunman entered the al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue, and later the Linwood mosque on Linwood Avenue in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, and opened fire, killing and injuring several of the mosques’ Muslim occupants. In the aftermath, it was revealed that fifty people had been killed in total, while 20 had been seriously injured and were in critical condition in the hospital.
In the aftermath of the mosque shootings, four suspects were taken in to custody, however police soon identified Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old white man, as the sole perpetrator of this heinous crime. In preparation for his murder spree, Tarrant had also released a manifesto called ‘the Great Replacement’, that went in to great detail about his extremist far right beliefs. In this document he called for white nationalists to take back their land from Muslim ‘invaders’ who were allegedly going to cause a White Genocide’ due to their rising population rates around the world.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, called it the darkest moment in New Zealand’s history, and bucked the trend usually employed in the US by unequivocally labeling the incident as a bona fide terrorist attack. She added that the suspect captured in the aftermath of this episode held “extremist views” that had no place in her country. She went on to say that the incident would definitely lead to a change in gun laws and that the government would announce new reforms for greater gun control by March 25. “This ultimately means that within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism we will have announced reforms which will, I believe, make our community safer”.
Due to the similarity of this mass shooting with the ones taking place in the US in recent years, and the gunman’s frequent allusions to the rising right wing, white nationalist movement in the US in his manifesto, it was natural for Donald Trump’s name to be mentioned, along with calls for decisive action regarding gun control.
The New Zealand Police Association President, Chris Cahill stressed that there was no place in the upcoming debate for the ‘radical gun lobby’ which had “made its presence felt in previous attempts to make our country safer”. He further warned that “we have seen what happens in the United States when gun radicals are involved. Nothing!” and that this was not ‘good enough’ for New Zealand. Cahill also cited the example of Australia’s Port Arthur massacre that led to the deaths of 35 people, but which prompted the government to reassess their gun policy and ban automated weapons.
For his part, while Donald Trump did condemn the mosque shootings, he also took the time to use this incident to raise the subject of illegal immigration. He also, once again, failed to blame the white nationalist movement for the part it played, instead calling them a “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems”.
Trump also called Prime Minster Ardern to offer his condolences and promised to provide her with any kind of support that she and her country may need. In response, Ardern, in what was taken as a personal dig at President Trump’s popular anti-Muslim stance, asked him only for “sympathy and love for all Muslim communities”. Perhaps at this time, that is all the US can hope to provide.