New Zealand Terror Attack: Rise of right wing extremism and weapons

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On 15th March 2019, a 28-year-old gunman launched attacks on two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. In a massacre that shocked the world, the attacker livestreamed the assault on Facebook. Police arrested the man, who had also published a far-right manifesto linking his assault with other extremist attacks against Muslims. Two immediate concerns were raised in the wake of this vile terror attack, namely, the rise of right wing extremism/terrorism and Islamophobia in the West and the almost unmonitored circulation of firearms- that offer a deadly utility to extreme sentiments.

In his 74-page ‘manifesto’ titled “The Great Replacement”- the Australian terrorist- Brenton Tarrant- said he was furious that “European lands” were being taken over by non-white immigrants. Among the 15 reasons he provided for perpetrating the attacks was the intent to “drive a wedge between the nations of NATO that are European and the Turks that also make a part of the NATO”.  The attacker also states that Turkey needs to be an adversary of the West, just as it was at other points in history. He threatens Turkey in his manifesto, saying: “We are coming for Constantinople  and we will destroy every mosque and minaret in the city. Hagia Sophia will be free of minarets and Constantinople will be rightfully Christian owned once more.”

Many are viewing these attacks as an extension of rising Islamophobia, racism and a new dimension of anti-Turkism associated with Islam. Coupled with these rising notions of racism- a refreshed discussion on gun control in the West has once again surfaced.

In 79 countries surveyed by the United Nations, firearm registration is the accepted norm and a cornerstone of gun control. Among developed nations, New Zealand’s decision not to register 96 per cent of civilian firearms makes it a stand-out exception, along with the United States and Canada.

Police have no authority to monitor the size and content of most private gun collections, and so cannot detect or prevent the build-up of private arsenals. Officers responding to callouts have no idea what guns they might encounter, nor how many they must find and remove to make families safe in cases of domestic violence.

NZ Police report that most firearms used in crimes came from the collection of a licenced gun owner, either by sale, theft or neglect.

In 2016, 64 percent of homicides in the United States resulted from gun violence; in Canada, the number was 30.5 percent the year prior. England and Wales posted much lower numbers during those two years: just 4.5 percent of deaths resulted from guns.

Mass shootings aren’t something that regularly happen in New Zealand. But in the U.S., they are. Since 1966, there have been 162 mass shootings in America. This information is likely not new to anyone reading it. Mass shootings are one of the biggest issues in America. When we talk about mass shootings, the conversation that directly follows is gun control.

Americans have a different relationship with guns than most countries. In America there is nearly one firearm for every person living in the U.S.– about 270 to 310 million guns. Firearms in the U.S. account for about 30-35 percent of guns in the world, in a country with less than 5 percent of the world population. Around a quarter of Americans are gun owners, ranking us the number one country for gun ownership in the world. Seventy-five percent of Americans are in favor of stricter gun laws, yet still no laws have changed as we as a country struggle to determine what restrictions should be put in place without infringing upon the rights of law-abiding citizens while still protecting the people. Ever since the gruesome terror attack- the government along with the opposition parties have agreed to jointly work together to reform NZ’s gun laws. It needs to be seen whether these primary steps initiated by New Zealand would create an impact in other Western countries such as US. There is also an urgent need for the global community to responsibility find a counter narrative for the burgeoning right wing extremism which lends support to anti-Muslim sentiments. Recently, the PM of New Zealand has stated that the government would not even voice the name of the terrorist who led the massacre at the mosque- but many are pointing out that the grim reality of this incident should not be placed behind smoke screens- because not discussing the killer and his agenda ,  would be equivalent to not discussing the right wing white racist/ fascist views which birthed the holocaust. The reasons behind the deeply entrenched racism and bigotry which were revealed in this incident require a proper discourse.

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