New Zealand PM wants gun laws changed after mosque shootings

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she will announce new gun laws within days, after a gunman killed 50 people in mass shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

'On behalf of all New Zealanders, we grieve together. We are one,' Jacinda Ardern writes

Fifty people were killed, and dozens are still injured in hospital after a gunman opened fire on two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques on Friday. Most of those who died were at the Al Noor mosque in the city's centre. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she would announce new gun laws within days, after a gunman killed 50 people in mass shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

In addition to the 50 killed, dozens were wounded at two mosques in the South Island city during Friday prayers.

"Within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism we will have announced reforms which will, I believe, make our community safer," Ardern said at news conference after her cabinet reached in principle decisions on gun reform laws in the wake of New Zealand's worst ever mass shooting.

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.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police have 250 detectives and specialists involved in the massive probe, which is ongoing.

He said police "believe there was only one attacker responsible for this horrendous event" but are still looking into whether or not anyone else was involved in supporting the attack.

The threat level in the country remains high, Bush said, and people should expect high visibility from police in the days ahead.

Gun City owner David Tipple said on Monday the alleged gunman bought four weapons and ammunition online from the store between December 2017 and March 2018, but it did not sell him the high-powered weapon used in the massacre.

"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 news conference in Christchurch.

Under New Zealand gun laws, A-category weapons can be semi-automatic but limited to seven shots. Livestreamed video of a gunman in one mosque showed a semi-automatic weapon with a large magazine.

Tipple said the online purchases followed a police-verified online mail-order process and the store detected nothing extraordinary about the licence holder.

Waiting for details

Ardern did not detail the new gun laws, but has said she supports a ban on automatic weapons following the Christchurch shootings.

Australia introduced some of the world's toughest gun laws after its worst mass killing, the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in which a lone gunman killed 35 people using a semi-automatic AR-15.

Australia banned semi-automatic weapons, launched a national gun amnesty in which tens of thousands of guns were handed in, and made it much tougher to own firearms.

New Zealand, a country of only 5 million people, has an estimated 1.5 million firearms.

A police officer stands guard outside Linwood mosque, the second mosque attacked by the gunman last week. (Vincent Thian/Associated Press)

"Until today I was one of the New Zealanders who owned a semi-automatic rifle. On the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn't outweigh the risk of misuse," John Hart, a farmer and Green Party candidate from Masterton said on Twitter on Monday.

"We don't need these in our country. We have make sure it's #NeverAgain."

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.

A Radio New Zealand report, based on police data secured through an Official Information Act request, said more than 99 per cent of people who applied for a firearms licence in 2017 were successful.

A New Zealand standard A-category firearm licence is issued after a police and background check. No licence is required to buy a larger-capacity 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.

Violent crime is rare in New Zealand and police do not usually carry guns. Before Friday, New Zealand's worst mass shooting was in 1990 when a man killed 13 men, women and children in a 24-hour rampage in the tiny seaside village of Aramoana. He was killed by police.

Ardern signs a national condolence book at Parliament. Ardern said, 'Our gun laws will change' in a press conference following the attacks. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Ardern said an inquiry will be held into what intelligence, police, customs and immigration knew or should have known about the accused shooter and the events leading up to the massacre, to see whether the attack could have been prevented.

Ardern said Tarrant had emailed a "manifesto" to more than 30 recipients including her office, nine minutes before the attack but it gave no location or specific details.

As the outpouring of support for the victims and their families continued Monday, the prime minister was the first signatory of a national condolence book for the country's worst mass killing that she opened in the capital Wellington.

"On behalf of all New Zealanders, we grieve together. We are one. They are us," she wrote in the book.

With files from CBC News