(Bloomberg) — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she will change gun laws as the country reels from a terrorist attack at two mosques that left 49 people dead and at least two still fighting for their lives.
“While the nation grapples with a form of grief and anger that we have not experienced before, we are seeking answers,” Ardern told a news conference in Wellington on Saturday morning. “I can tell you one thing right now, our guns laws will change.”
In what Ardern has described as a well-planned terrorist attack, a shooter walked into a packed mosque in the South Island city of Christchurch on Friday afternoon and opened fire on worshipers, filming and live-streaming the act to social media. After killing 41 people there, he drove to another mosque and continued the massacre, murdering a further seven people. Another person died in hospital.
Police said 42 people were injured and two of them are in a critical condition, including a young child. A 28-year-old man will appear in Christchurch District Court Saturday charged with murder. Two others remain in custody and police are still assessing whether they were involved. Another person apprehended yesterday has been released.
Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the man facing murder charges, carefully modeled his attack for an internet age: He live-streamed the massacre, shouted out a popular meme slogan, and published a long, rambling manifesto replete with inside jokes geared for those steeped in underground internet culture.
Tarrant’s manifesto spread quickly Friday on 8chan, a dark corner of the web where those disaffected by mainstream social media sites often post extremist, racist, and violent views. The 74-page screed espouses white supremacist views even as it contradicts itself. Some saw similarities to the 1,500-page manifesto written by Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian right-wing extremist who killed 77 people in 2011.
Ardern said police have recovered two semiautomatic weapons, two shotguns, and a lever-action firearm. Tarrant had a category-A gun license, which meant he could legally buy the weapons he used, she said.
“That will give you an indication of why we need to change our guns laws,” Ardern said. Banning semiautomatic guns is “certainly one of the issues that I’m looking at with immediate effect.”
The national security threat level has been lifted to high from low, and while authorities have no reason to believe other suspects are at large, they said it shouldn’t be assumed the danger has passed. Police have asked all mosques nationally to shut their doors and advised people to refrain from visiting them until further notice.
The events have shocked New Zealand, a peaceful nation in the South Pacific where gun violence is relatively rare. The death toll makes it the country’s worst mass shooting since a prisoner of war camp riot in 1943, which killed 49. Christchurch, a city of about 390,000, is still recovering from a 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people and destroyed the central business district.
President Donald Trump said he spoke to Ardern and told her the U.S. stands in solidarity with New Zealand and offered any assistance. He joins leaders from around the world expressing their sympathies, including U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, Queen Elizabeth, and Pope Francis.
New Zealanders around the country and overseas gathered in quiet vigil and prayer, while people in Christchurch began leaving flowers near the two mosques. In London, people gathered at the New Zealand memorial in Hyde Park and flags were lowered to half-mast on government buildings.
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel urged the city to show its support for affected communities and to remain vigilant. The attacks were “an act of cowardice,” Dalziel told reporters on Saturday.