New Zealand’s Legislative Response to Terrorist’s Attack

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

By: Elizabeth Fitch, Staff Writer


On March 15, 2019, “the nation witnessed a terrorist attack that demonstrated the weakness of New Zealand’s gun laws,” Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern stated.[1] A self-proclaimed white supremacist stole the lives of fifty people at two mosques using two legally purchased semi-automatic rifles modified with 30-plus round magazines, essentially turning them into military-style semi-automatic weapons.[2] A mere six days after the tragedy, gun laws are changing – legislation is currently being drafted and Ardern expects the new laws to take effect by April 11, 2019.[3]

The nation now mourns fifty lives; mountains of flowers, candles, handwritten messages, and memorials fill the streets of the country.[4] “This is your home and you should have been safe here,”[5] grievers write.

Ardern is now leading New Zealand in a fight against prejudice. She has criticized social media companies for allowing and amplifying extremism, made sure that people know that New Zealand is a place where there is no tolerance for racism[6] , and most notably, announced a ban on all military-style assault rifles and ammunition.[7]

Though these changes are meant to lead the country in a positive direction, commentators have mentioned it can be difficult to see how the country can feel safe without some changes internationally: “We need to understand American laws because they affect us.”[8] Issues such as guns, racism and tech platforms are no longer limited to the United States. “Now it wounds the world,”[9] commentators state. As the right to bear arms is safeguarded in the Constitution, Americans remain deeply divided on the issue.[10] “There is hard work to be done for that to change… what New Zealanders want is for Americans to learn from others, for globalization to go the other way, even if it means limitations on fundamental American freedoms.”[11]

Before the shooting, according to the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners, all gun owners in New Zealand needed a license, which one could obtain as young as the age of sixteen, but the weapon itself did not need to be registered with the authorities.[12] Of the 3.9 million New Zealanders eligible for gun licensure, 238,000 — only six percent — have a firearm license.[13] Now, those possessing assault weapons will have to remit them to the government. The guns will eventually be destroyed.[14] The New Zealand Cabinet will be implementing a buyback plan, and there will be strictly regulated exemptions for hunters and farmers.[15] “I strongly believe that the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest, and will take these changes in their stride,” Ardern says. A former semi-automatic rifle owner eagerly agreed: “On the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse. We don’t need these in our country.”[16] New Zealand is not the only country to react this way after such a horror. Both Australia and Britain have reformed their gun laws in response to mass shootings.[17]

Ardern made sure to note that gun ownership is “a privilege and not a right” in New Zealand.[18] As the country comes together to mourn the loss of fifty of their own, the New Zealand government is doing everything it can to make sure this never happens again. American progressive voices have declared that thisis what leadership looks like.[19] Ardern leads the country into the future on a determined note: “Our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too.”[20]

























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