New Zealand Gun Sales Are Increasing, Yet Homicides Remain Rare

New Zealand’s gun ownership rate has risen in the past decade to become one of the highest in the world, yet its homicide rate remains well below global norms as many of those weapons belong to hunters and farmers.

Friday’s mass shootings in Christchurch killed at least 49 people, one more than the total number of homicides in the country in 2017, according to the latest police figures. The attacks at two mosques are the country’s worst mass shooting in more than seven decades.

The shootings may add fresh fodder to the gun control debate for New Zealand’s almost 5 million population. The country, considered to have more permissible firearms laws than its neighbor, Australia, has largely escaped the deeply polarizing debates over guns that are common in the U.S.

Civilian gun ownership in New Zealand increased 62 percent from 2005, according to GunPolicy.org, a firearm prevention group hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health. The total number of guns, both legal and illicit, held by New Zealand’s civilians reached 1.5 million in 2017, according to the group.

Rifles and shotguns, which are bigger and typically require two hands to operate, are the firearms of choice for New Zealand citizens. That’s likely indicative of their use for hunting or by farmers protecting livestock.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who called the Christchurch shootings a terrorist attack, signaled her views on gun laws in her reaction to the 2017 mass shootings in Las Vegas.

“When you see horrific situations like this, there’s nothing that justifies such liberal gun laws,” she told national broadcaster TVNZ in October of that year, before she became prime minister.

New Zealand has the 17th highest rate of civilian firearm holdings per 100 residents, with 26.3, according to the Small Arms Survey released in Geneva in June. By comparison, the U.S. has 120.5 guns per 100 residents, the highest rate in the world. Australia and the U.K. aren’t in the top 25.

Handguns made up less than 3 percent of the firearms in 2017, according to GunPolicy. One of the suspects in the Christchurch shootings allegedly used a semi-automatic, high-powered firearm that’s banned in Australia.

Murders using guns is rarer still. In the decade up to 2015, there were only two years in which the number of gun homicides reached 10 or more in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s overall homicide rate of 1.2 per 100,000 people is well below the global rate of 6.4, according to a WHO report from 2015.

Gun licenses in New Zealand can be obtained starting at 16 years of age. Residents must show up at their police arms office, typically at the police station, to apply in person. Permits are needed to buy pistols from individuals, there are restrictions on semi-automatic guns, and the licenses of gun dealers must be renewed annually, according to national laws.

— With assistance by Daniela Wei

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