On a Tuesday in November 1990, the sleepy town of Aramoana was burned into New Zealand's collective consciousness.
The 13 residents killed in a gun rampage that shocked the nation were, until Friday’s attacks in Christchurch, victims of the country’s worst-ever mass shooting, one that opened a widespread reevaluation of New Zealand’s relationship with firearms. All subsequent gun debates here have been guided by the tragic events in Aramoana and their soul-searching aftermath.
Nearly three decades later, another horrific event is having a similar effect. The terrorist attack on two Christchurch mosques has focused international attention on this faraway country, seen as an idyllic place that is both geographically and emotionally separate from much of the world’s tumult. Domestically, it has exposed an attitude to gun ownership in New Zealand that experts argue has become increasingly lax, with the government set to discuss changes to the country’s gun laws on Monday. “I can tell you one thing right now,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told journalists in the wake of the shooting. “Our gun laws will change.”
It echoes the legacy of Aramoana. Mass shootings demand that all countries consider the role of firearms in the hands of their civilians. Some, such as Britain and Australia—victims of mass shootings in Hungerford in 1987 and Port Arthur in 1996, respectively—chose to clamp down on gun ownership, demanding that rigorous checks be fulfilled in order to grant access to firearms. After Aramoana, New Zealanders have chosen a path that focuses on regulation, with only selective prohibition. Legislation passed in 1992 amended the 1983 Arms Act, placing restrictions on the sale of military-style semiautomatic (MSSA) rifles and introducing 10-year limits for firearm licenses, requiring that holders reapply in order to maintain legal access to their armories.