The toll of 49 dead and more injured in mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques will put renewed scrutiny on New Zealand’s gun laws – particularly the debate over restrictions on military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, which are frequently used in mass shooting attacks worldwide.
Civilians in New Zealand own an estimated 1.2m firearms, according to the 2017 Small Arms Survey. That makes New Zealand’s per capita rate of gun ownership higher than Australia’s, but still far below the US, where there is more than one gun per person in civilian ownership.
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The Christchurch shootings highlight “the disparity between New Zealand gun laws and those of other developed nations”, said Philip Alpers, an Australian researcher and the founding director of GunPolicy.org, which tracks gun laws worldwide.
Unlike the UK and Australia, New Zealand does not ban the ownership of semi-automatic military-style assault weapons. Most guns can be legally sold on the internet or through newspaper ads. Any person aged 16 or over with an entry-level firearm licence can keep any number of common rifles and shotguns without having to register them.
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“New Zealand’s decision not to register 96% of civilian firearms makes it a standout exception, alone with the United States and Canada,” Alpers said.
Over the past year, New Zealand has seen a renewed debate over what police have called loopholes in the way military-style semi-automatic (MSSA) rifles are defined by law. Possession of MSSA rifles is supposed to be subject to a higher level of scrutiny from the police, and there...
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