Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, said on Monday gun law reforms would be announced in 10 days, after meeting her cabinet for the first time since the massacre in Christchurch.
The shock of the attacks, in which 50 people were killed and dozens wounded at two mosques, has led to calls for an immediate tightening of laws to restrict access to some firearms, particularly semi-automatic weapons.
Ms Ardern said on Monday that her cabinet had made in principle decisions around the reform of gun laws following the mass shooting in Christchurch
“I intend to give further details of these decisions to the media and the public before cabinet meets again next Monday,” she said at a press conference.
“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.”
She said an inquiry would look at the lead up to attack and what might have been done differently.
The owner of a New Zealand gun store said on Monday the man charged with murder in Christchurch’s mass shooting had bought firearms and ammunition online from the store, but it did not sell him the high-powered weapon used in the mosque shootings.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday. Tarrant was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5 where police said he was likely to face more charges.
Gun City owner David Tipple said the alleged gunman bought four weapons and ammunition between December 2017 and March 2018.
“The MSSA, military-style automatic, reportedly used by the alleged gunman was not purchased from Gun City. Gun City did not sell him an MSSA, only A-category firearms,” Mr Tipple told a news conference in Christchurch.
Under New Zealand gun laws, A-category weapons can be semi-automatic but limited to seven shots. Video of a gunman in one mosque showed a semi-automatic with a large magazine round.
Mr Tipple said the online purchases followed a police-verified online mail-order process and A-category firearms were bought in three or four purchases.
“We detected nothing extraordinary about the licence holder. He was a brand new purchaser, with a brand new licence,” he said.
Tightening New Zealand’s gun laws was at the top of Ms Ardern’s agenda for the Cabinet meeting on Monday.
“What the public rightly are asking right now is why is it and how is it that you are currently able to buy military style semi-automatic weapons in New Zealand, and that’s the right question to ask,” Ms Ardern told TVNZ earlier on Monday.
“There are ways we can bring in effective regulation of firearms that actually target those we need to target and that is our focus.”
Mr Tipple said he supported Ardern’s call for gun law reforms as the Christchurch shootings had raised legitimate concerns.
New Zealand, a country of only 5 million people, has an estimated 1.5 million firearms. The minimum age for a gun license is 16, and 18 to own a semi-automatic weapon.
A Radio New Zealand report, based on police data secured through an Official Information Act request, said more than 99 percent of people who applied for a firearms licence in 2017 were successful.
A New Zealand standard A-category firearm licence is issued after a police and background check. No licence is required to buy a large round magazine, which can be illegally modified for use in such a weapon.
Only firearm owners are licensed, not weapons, so there is no monitoring of how many weapons a person may possess.
The plans for gun control measures came as Tarrant’s court-appointed lawyer said the suspect intended to represent himself.
Duty lawyer Richard Peters, who represented Tarrant during the preliminary court hearing, told AFP the 28-year-old “indicated he does not want a lawyer”.
“He wants to be self-represented in this case,” said Mr Peters, who played down suggestions that Tarrant may not be fit for trial.
“The way he presented was rational and someone who was not suffering any mental disability. That’s how he appeared. He seemed to understand what was going on,” Mr Peters said.
Ms Ardern was the first signatory of a national condolence book for the country’s worst mass killing that she opened in the capital Wellington on Monday.
“On behalf of all New Zealanders, we grieve together. We are one. They are us,” she wrote in the book.
Frustration was building among the families of victims as under Islam it is custom to conduct burials within 24 hours, but bodies will not be released until post mortems are carried out.
Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha said the first body was approved for release on Sunday night, but the family was yet to take the body because another relative was also killed and they wanted to collect them together. He said there would be no burials on Monday.
“We’ve been working fairly hard through the night to ensure the process of returning the deceased to their loved ones is taking place expediently,” he said.
The burial process, which usually involves washing with three kinds of water, salving wounds and scrubbing skin, would be complicated, volunteers in Christchurch said.
Mo, a volunteer who had flown in from Brisbane to wash the bodies, said the people who died in the mosques were classified as martyrs. That meant there were different views as to whether they would be washed or not because he said Islamic jurisprudence said martyrs are not to be washed as their blood was witness to their martyrdom.
“But some people have said because it was not a battlefield it is okay to wash the body. But it is at the discretion of the family,” said Mo. He asked to be identified by just one name.
The two mosques involved in the shootings have been closed since the massacre, but are expected to reopen by Friday prayers after cleansing blessings were carried out, said Haumaha.
“This morning we conducted two important blessings at the Deans Avenue mosques and the Linwood mosque,” he said.
“This blessing this morning gave them (the Muslim community) huge confidence…We hope to have those premises in place by the end of the week to allow our Muslim community to go back and undertake prayer.”