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What we know about the gun used in the New Zealand mosque shooting



A deadly shooting rampage in New Zealand on Friday has already sparked debate about the country’s gun-control laws, after a shooter mowed down dozens of worshippers at two Christchurch mosques.

Authorities said 49 people were killed, 48 more were injured, and multiple suspects were arrested. New Zealand police have not formally identified the accused gunman, but said a 28-year-old man has been charged with murder.

Police also have not yet released information about the weapon used in the shooting spree or how the suspect obtained it. But live-streamed video of the shooting and photos from a now-defunct Twitter account believed to be the suspect’s show what appear to be semi-automatic rifles and magazines covered in symbols and white writing, some of it in the Cyrillic alphabet.

Some of the writing referred to infamous mass shooters and extremists, such as an Italian national who injured six African migrants last year, and a Canadian man who fatally shot six people in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017.

A police officer stands guard during Friday prayers at the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, providing extra security after the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand on March 15, 2019.
REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Read more: Heartbreaking images from inside the New Zealand mosque show wounded people, bodies, and bullet cases after mass shooting killed 49

Writing on the guns also referred to Ebba Akerlund, an 11-year-old victim of a 2017 terror attack in Sweden, according to the Associated Press. White supremacists have frequently touted the girl’s death as a racist excuse to seek “revenge” on Muslims.

In the wake of Friday’s attack, potential gun reform measures are already on the minds of some prominent New Zealanders. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark told ABC News she believed the tragedy would prompt change.

“Personally, I would be surprised if the New Zealand parliament didn’t accept that challenge head-on to strengthen the law,” she said. “We do have gun control. People have to be fit and proper persons to have guns, but undoubtedly the law can be strengthened and improved.”

Guns for the ‘fit and proper’ — with some loopholes

Armed police patrol outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019.
Associated Press/Mark Baker

New Zealand’s 5 million residents own a cumulative 1.2 million firearms, according to data from the 2017 Small Arms Survey. That figure dwarfs Australia’s per-capita gun ownership rate, where there are just 3.6 million guns among a population of nearly 25 million.

But both countries still pale in comparison to the United States, where there are far more guns than people, with an estimated 393 million guns for the country’s 326 million people.

New Zealand already has a number of gun-control laws in place, including a licensing system that requires prospective gun owners to pass a background check to determine whether they are a “fit and proper person.”

Self-defense is also not a valid reason to obtain a gun license in New Zealand — residents must prove they require the gun for a “lawful, proper, and sufficient purpose” like hunting or recreational shooting.

Read more: Video of arrest just after New Zealand mosque shootings appears to show how a suspect was caught by police

Police and ambulance staff help a wounded man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019.

But despite the licensing system, New Zealand gun owners are not required to register all of their firearms, as gun owners in most other developed countries do.

In comparison, Australia’s famously strict gun laws ban all semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, and require lengthy waiting periods and background checks before purchases. The country also implemented a massive buyback program in the 1990s, which took more than 650,000 guns out of circulation.

Researchers have even found that Australia’s laws have effectively prevented mass shootings in the two decades since the nation enacted a crackdown on firearms.

New Zealand residents have also begun a vigorous debate over gun-control laws within the last year — particularly when it comes to what they call military-style semiautomatic rifles (MSSAs), and a legal loophole that has allowed many people to purchase them without the special designated licenses.

Since New Zealand law strictly defines MSSAs by their parts, such as their magazine capacities and pistol grips, slight modifications to the weapons can take a gun out of the MSSA category and allow people to purchase them with regular licenses, rather than the specially designated ones.

If New Zealand does crack down on guns in the wake of Friday’s massacre, it wouldn’t be the first time. Lawmakers tightened up regulations around semiautomatic weapons in 1992, two years after a gunman fatally shot 13 people, including two six-year-olds, in the town of Aramoana.

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