'Panic buying' of guns ahead of ban

12:20 pm on 17 March 2019

By Laura Walters and Melanie Reid in Newsroom

There has been a rush on gun shops, with people "panic buying", in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack and in anticipation of the government tightening gun laws.

19805786 - semi automatic black rifle on a pine needle and forest background

Photo: 123RF

Following the Christchurch shooting, which killed 50 people on Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has promised to tighten gun laws.

Following Ms Ardern's comments on Saturday morning, gun shop owners - at bricks and mortar stores, and online - experienced a jump in sales.

The Christchurch branch of Gun City was busy on Saturday, with people buying guns and equipment.

Firearms owners posted online about "panic buying", where people were rushing to stores to purchase firearms, following the prime minister's comments about plans to tighten gun laws.

On the Facebook group Kiwi Gun Blog, firearms owners and sellers said there was heightened buying of semi-automatic weapons, ammunition and magazines around the country on Saturday.

Meanwhile, an Auckland gun shop owner recorded a significant increase in sales of semi-automatic weapons, and the phone ran off the hook with enquires about semi-automatics, including the prices and how much stock the store had left.

Questions are being asked about how the person responsible for the Christchurch terror attack came to hold a New Zealand gun licence, and gain access to illegally modified weapons.

Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, has been arrested and charged with one count of murder. More charges are likely.

He held a basic New Zealand gun licence, probably legally purchased the guns themselves, and they were later altered.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Tarrant was in possession of five firearms, in total.

The fact he was able to access those types of weapons showed New Zealand's gun laws were not fit-for-purpose, and they would change, Ms Ardern said on Saturday morning.

Illegally modified guns

Tarrant, who is an Australian citizen, travelled to New Zealand sporadically.

While in New Zealand in November 2017, he acquired a basic gun licence, known as a Category A licence. In December 2017, he registered with a popular online gun retailer but never purchased anything from the website.

A gun expert told Newsroom, the shotgun first used at the Deans Ave mosque appeared to be a Mossberg 930 semi-automatic. This gun has a magazine capacity of seven rounds, and once the shooter ran out of ammunition in the shotgun, they appeared to dump it and switch to an AR15.

The AR15 is a semi-automatic sporting rifle, and among the most popular firearms currently sold.

The expert told Newsroom they were "today's sporting rifle". They were often used for deer, goat and pig hunting, and competitive target shooting, according to online gun sites.

Both types of guns could be purchased by someone holding a regular Category A licence, without any special endorsements.

Guns that can be legally purchased and used by someone with a Category A licence have to be deemed by police to be non-military style, not have a collapsible or folding stock, and not have bayonets, lugs, a free-standing pistol grip, or a flash hider. Category A permits ownership of basic bolt, lever and similar action rifles and shotguns, and some semi-automatic guns, which are not deemed to be "military style".

While the main body of the guns used could be legally acquired with a basic Category A licence, the AR15 had been fitted illegally with large magazines, the expert said.

Under the 1992 Arms Act, a semi-automatic AR15 sporting rifle can only have a magazine capacity of 7 rounds. The magazines used in the shooting held 30 rounds, 40 rounds, and 60 rounds.

It is understood part of the equipment used in the attack was likely purchased from a local gun dealer.

While Ms Ardern said Tarrant legally held five firearms, Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed a Category A firearm licence holder could purchase the guns without the magazines, "or the things that will enable them to be in the state that they were".

Mr Bush said guns used in the attack would not have been able to legally bought in the state they were in when he launched the attack.

Questions over gun licence vetting

Police were also asked how Mr Tarrant managed to obtain a New Zealand gun licence.

In order to acquire a gun licence here, a person has to be over 16, pass a background check, and have two referees, including a next of kin or spouse.

Mr Bush said Mr Tarrant had no criminal history and was not known to police in New Zealand or Australia. He was not on any police or terrorist watchlists.

When asked exactly what process police had followed when assessing Mr Tarrant for a gun licence, Mr Bush said police were still working through the details.

But he said generally the process included checking whether the person had a criminal history, checking with their referees, "and we mostly likely do a home visit".

Mr Tarrant was also a member of the Bruce Rifle Club in South Otago. He joined in early 2018.

President Scott Williams told Newsroom, the club scrutinised its members, but in relation to the basic rules of the arms code and how they handled firearms, and followed the rules.

"We do not scrutinise them to assess if they are white supremacist nationalists because as far as we knew, we didn't have those types in New Zealand," he said.

- Originally published in Newsroom

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