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UPDATED: Christchurch attacks: gun control - Expert Reaction

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Professor Alexander Gillespie, Professor of International Law, University of Waikato, comments:

Gun law

"All firearms are a risk, but some are a much greater risk than others. It’s absolutely not about banning guns – it’s about banning that high-risk gun.

"There are three types of guns to be looking out for:

• A Category: standard rifles, including semi-automatics with magazine capacity of seven bullets or less;

• B Category: pistols;

• E Category: effectively a fully military-style semi-automatic firearms.

"What this guy had was an A Category gun, and an A Category licence – he is effectively at the entry level of a gun licence. The vast majority of New Zealand’s firearms are A Category.

"But by having no prosecutions he wasn’t on the [police] radar, so he could buy a firearm and modify it to an E Category. He modified it very simply by changing the magazine from something that was less than seven bullets to anything up to 30 bullets – that is one of the most obvious holes in the law.

"If he had walked into the mosque with a [Category A] rifle with bolt action and had to reload each bullet you would have [far fewer] people dead. Because he walked in with a semi-automatic firearm, he has managed to kill 50 people.

"For the last 10 years, we have had the gun debate in New Zealand and focused on criminals – people who have sourced their guns from gangs and got them unlawfully. You’re always going to have illegal guns. This is about a lawful gun owner who was licenced buying something off the shelf.

"When Australia or England has had these incidents, the government says because these guys are under the radar, the easiest way to deal with the problem is to take that firearm out of circulation. Australia acted after Port Arthur and removed the semi-automatics, and their murder rate by firearm has declined.

"The vast, overwhelming majority of gun owners are lawful citizens and they are about to lose something because of this one person. If they lose something it’s essential that they get fair compensation – you must give them market compensation on what they’re about to lose.

"In New Zealand and Australia and England gun ownership is a privilege, not a right, and you have to balance that privilege with the risk to the rest of the community.

"The scale of what happened in Christchurch is bigger than the atrocities that happened in Australia and England that led to their change. On top of that you’ve got a Labour-led administration which is quite progressive. If you’re going to follow international best practice, I think [change] is likely. It would be a very brave politician to stand up and say ‘these semi-automatic weapons are not a risk to the community’. You’ve got 50 dead New Zealanders and you cannot argue that these things are no risk to the community any more."

General comment

"There’s no monopoly on hatred and anger, but we need to be particularly concerned about the far right at the moment, and that was part of the problem with the last attack. People weren’t looking at the far right. You’ve got to look wider and deeper than we have been.

"There’s a lot of debate on whether [the accused] should be charged under terrorism legislation or whether he should be charged under the Crimes Act for the simple act of murder - in many ways it’s academic debate. The main thing is that he ends up in jail forever. To me it’s important he’s kept in a kind of isolation, he gets no notoriety, and he never sees the internet ever again.

“There are so many unknowns about this because we’ve never had to deal with this before. When we had our last mass shooter – at Aramoana – he was killed. There was no one to bring to justice. You are dealing with a situation akin to after the Second World War when you had war criminals come up – you’ve got an absolute evil and you’re not sure how it fits into the legal system. We have to bend the legal system to make sure it fully encompasses and captures this kind of evil.

"From having a national day of mourning to stricter gun control – the reaction from New Zealand is not just important to our domestic community, it’s important internationally. The whole world is watching how we respond right now."

No conflict of interest declared.


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