The owner of a New Zealand gun store said on Monday the man charged with murder in Christchurch’s mass shooting had bought firearms and ammunition online from the store, but it did not sell him the high-powered weapon used in the mosque shootings.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday. Tarrant was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5 where police said he was likely to face more charges.
Fifty people were killed and dozens wounded at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday.
Gun City owner David Tipple said the alleged gunman bought four weapons and ammunition between December 2017 and March 2018.
“The MSSA, military-style automatic, reportedly used by the alleged gunman was not purchased from Gun City. Gun City did not sell him an MSSA, only A-category firearms,” Tipple told a new conference in Christchurch.
Under New Zealand gun laws, A-category weapons can be semi-automatic but limited to seven shots. Video of a gunman in one mosque showed a semi-automatic with a large magazine round.
Tipple said the online purchases followed a police-verified online mail-order process and A-category firearms were bought in three or four purchases.
“We detected nothing extraordinary about the license holder. He was a brand new purchaser, with a brand new license,” he said.
Tightening New Zealand’s gun laws was at the top of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s agenda as she met with her cabinet on Monday for the first time since the massacre.
The shock of the attacks has led to calls for an immediate tightening of laws to restrict access to some firearms, particularly semi-automatic weapons.
“What the public rightly are asking right now is why is it and how is it that you are currently able to buy military style semi-automatic weapons in New Zealand, and that’s the right question to ask,” Ardern told TVNZ earlier on Monday.
“There are ways we can bring in affective regulation of firearms that actually target those we need to target and that is our focus.”
Gun City owner Tipple said he supported Ardern’s call for gun law reforms as the Christchurch shootings had raised legitimate concerns.
New Zealand, a country of only 5 million people, has an estimated 1.5 million firearms. The minimum age for a gun license is 16, and 18 to own a semi-automatic weapon.
A Radio New Zealand report, based on police data secured through an Official Information Act request, said more than 99 percent of people who applied for a firearms license in 2017 were successful.
A New Zealand standard A-category firearm license is issued after a police and background check. No license is required to buy a large round magazine, which can be illegally modified for use in such a weapon.
Only firearm owners are licensed, not weapons, so there is no monitoring of how many weapons a person may possess.
New Zealand’s top online marketplace Trade Me Group said it was halting the sale of semi-automatic weapons in the wake of Friday’s attack.
Ardern was the first signatory of a national condolence book for the country’s worst mass killing that she opened in the capital Wellington on Monday.
“On behalf of all New Zealanders, we grieve together. We are one. They are us,” she wrote in the book.
Frustration was building among the families of victims as bodies will not be released until post mortems are carried out.
Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha said the first body was approved for release on Sunday night, but the family was yet to take the body because another relative was also killed and they wanted to collect them together. He said there would be no burials on Monday.
“We’ve been working fairly hard through the night to ensure the process of returning the deceased to their loved ones is taking place expediently,” he said.
The two mosques involved in the shootings have been closed since the massacre, but are expected to reopen by Friday prayers after cleansing blessings were carried out, said Haumaha.
“This morning we conducted two important blessings at the Deans Avenue mosques and the Linwood mosque,” he said.
“This blessing this morning gave them (the Muslim community) huge confidence…We hope to have those premises in place by the end of the week to allow our Muslim community to go back and undertake prayer.”