Terror in Chch

‘Panic buying’ of guns ahead of ban

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.

Following the Christchurch shooting, which killed 49 people on Friday, the Prime Minister promised to tighten gun laws. 

Following Jacinda 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.

Meanwhile, questions are being asked of how the man responsible for the Christchurch terror attack came to hold a New Zealand gun licence, and gain access to illegally modified weapons.

Self-described white surpremacist Brenton Harrison Tarrant, attacked with illegally modified weapons. But police and gun experts believe Tarrant, who held a basic New Zealand gun licence, probably legally purchased the guns themselves, and they were later altered.

Tarrant has been charged with one count of murder, with more charges expected, after he open fired on two mosques in Christchurch on Friday. Two other people have been arrested in relation to the attacks.

After shooting a semi-automatic weapon at the mosque on Deans Ave – where 41 died – police say he drove to the Linwood Ave mosque, where a further seven people were killed. One person later died in hopsital, with dozens more injured.

When Tarrant was apprehended by police, he had two weapons in the car, and an explosive device. A further explosive device was found inside the mosque.

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, 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 by Tarrant at the Deans Ave mosque appeared to be a Mossberg 930 semi-automatic. This gun has a magazine capacity of seven rounds, and once he ran out of ammunition in the shotgun, he 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 Tarrant had 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. Tarrant had magazines holding 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 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”.

Bush said Tarrant would not have been able to legally buy the guns, in the state they were in when he launched the attack.

Questions over gun licence vetting 

Police were also asked how 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.

Bush said 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 Tarrant for a gun licence, 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”.

A group that considers themselves responsible gun owners said gun owners like them would see the police as under scrutiny for not thoroughly checking or vetting Tarrant and the people who were his referees.

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 obviously 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.

Travel to Eastern Europe

Tarrant grew up in Grafton, Australia and worked at a gym after high school.

He claims to have made money in trading Bitcoin, and used that money, and reportedly an inheritance, to travel.

Tarrant visited Pakistan, North Korea, and had travelled to Bulgaria, and other parts of Eastern Europe, in recent years.

Bulgarian journalist Ivo Maev said Serbian authorities confirmed Tarrant had travelled to Bulgaria in November last year, and visited other Balkan countries. His first visit to the region was in 2016.

The guns used by Tarrant in the terror attack on the two Christchurch mosques carried references to historical battles of the Bulgarian and Serbian people against the Ottoman Empire. Using white paint, Tarrant covered his weapons in references to the Shipka battle in Bulgaria in 1877, and Battle of Bulair in 1913 for example.

Following an official meeting of heads of the security services in Sofia, Bulgaria (Saturday NZT), Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov said Tarrant arrived in the country from Dubai and went on to visit a number of cities in Bulgaria, before renting a car and travelling to Hungary.

Tsatsarov and Interior Minister Mladen Marinov said Bulgaria would continue to investigate but there was no evidence he had any links to terror groups in Bulgaria.

Tarrant is a self-proclaimed nationalist, who publicised a manifesto on social media immediately prior to the attack.

The manifesto singled out issues of immigration and reiterated extreme white surpremacist views.

Tarrant was also active on social media, and ahead of the attack posted memes used by far-right online communities, and in the days leading up to the attack he posted pictures of equipment used to carry out the attack, which was covered in neo-nazi references.

Ardern said she was asking questions of New Zealand’s security and intelligence agencies as to how he was not on the radar of any authorities. The investigation into how Tarrant went undetected was underway.

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