By Maddie Aitken ’19
On March 15, there were two consecutive shootings at two different mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that resulted in 50 deaths and 50 injuries. The attacks began at the Al Noor Mosque, in the suburb of Riccarton, and then continued at the Linwood Islamic Center.
The shooter was a 28-year-old Australian man named Brenton Tarrant, who is a white supremacist and a member of the alt-right, as well as a self-described eco-fascist and ethnonationalist.
The shootings have been determined to be terrorist attacks, and Tarrant’s acts were extremely calculated. He wrote a sort of manifesto, which he posted on social media shortly before the attacks, describing his far-right and white nationalistic views. It also praises Dylann Roof, who attacked a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, and Anders Breivik, who killed dozens of young people at a summer camp in Norway in 2011. Tarrant wanted to publicize his manifesto, using the attack to gain international attention. He also live streamed the first attack on Facebook Live.
These attacks were obviously devastating for those with personal connections to the victims, but they rocked the country as a whole and caused gun control to become a priority. Historically, New Zealand has been a fairly nonviolent country, with no real need for limited gun access, but this changed everything.
Almost immediately after the attacks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for fast gun reform.“The clear lesson from history around the world is that to make our community safer, the time to act is now,” said Ardern, just three days after the shooting. And soon after that, New Zealand’s Parliament voted 119-1 to ban most semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles.
Most of the New Zealand public is in support of the speedy gun action. Sara Noble, a lifelong New Zealand resident who was not personally affected by the shootings but felt the effects nonetheless, said, “Yes, it was absolutely right to change the gun laws. The sooner the better…I think most New Zealanders were unaware that it was even possible to own automatic weapons or assault rifles in New Zealand. And we didn’t know how easy it was to buy guns in general.”
She explained that just days after the shooting and Ardern’s announcement that they would be banning assault weapons, people voluntarily started handing in their guns to the police without even being asked. “There is almost unanimous support for making all of this stricter. It’s a ‘no-brainer’.”
Although New Zealand has been a historically nonviolent country known to be mostly peaceful, there were a few factors at work that led to such a deadly attack. There has been an increasing sense of xenophobia across the country. “Inequality, homelessness and incarceration” rates are going up, according to Noble, and this has caused the “well-being of the population to be very fragile.”
Noble, who has lived in New Zealand her whole life, says there has been a change in New Zealanders’ widely-held beliefs. “I was brought up in a New Zealand that understood that people were not born into equal circumstances and, in the interests of fairness, some people needed and deserved government help. Now the dominant belief is that if people are poor or disadvantaged in any way it is because they have made bad choices or worse, that they are just inferior, and it would be unfair to penalise those who are successful (through tax) to help them.”
The predominant race in New Zealand is white, with 74 percent of the population being of European descent. The indigenous people of New Zealand, called Maoris, are fairly present, making up 14.9 percent of the population, and immigrant Asians and non-Maori Pacific Islanders collectively make up another 19.2 percent of the population.
Recently, Noble said, there have been increasing tensions between different kinds of people – partially between people of different races and ethnicities and partially between people of different social classes. “The neo-liberal policies of the last 40 years have turned our egalitarian country into one of the most unequal societies in the western world…A country rife with division, distress, poverty, violence and mental illness. Miserable people being told to be angry, hate and blame others for their misery rather than identify and change the structural forces that create the circumstances they suffer.”
Noble says these shifting views, which, to some extent, mirror the views of some Americans, have contributed to an increasing sense of white nationalism, which was Tarrant’s motivation for the attack. And the attack, to some extent, mirrors the attacks that we’ve been experiencing in the U.S. in recent years.
The disparity between New Zealand and the U.S., however, is the way the countries have handled the aftermath of violent attacks. Gun control was at the top of New Zealanders’ minds and agendas after one attack, and they acted immediately. In the U.S., on the other hand, we’ve had numerous mass shootings that haven’t resulted in any real change. Attacks like this one have become almost commonplace in the states, which can make people numb to their effects.
Regardless of political beliefs, it’s safe to say no one wants to see innocent people die. New Zealand did the right thing by jumping into action, and they should serve as a reminder and a role model for the rest of the world.