New Zealand mass shooting leaves nation in shock nearly 30 years after last attack: Reporter's Notebook

It's been nearly 30 years since the last mass shooting in the island nation.

March 16, 2019, 5:04 PM

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand -- Imagine how you felt after Columbine or Virginia Tech or Newtown.

Those are the raw, heartbreaking emotions ripping through Christchurch right now. Before this attack, residents told me the worst tragedy they remembered happening here was a cluster of large earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The difference, they said, is that the earthquakes were an act of Mother Nature. This attack was an act of evil.

New Zealanders are unaccustomed to mass shootings and large acts of violence. The hospital here was overwhelmed. Doctors had never treated bullet wounds like they did Friday.

Crowds gather for a vigil in memory of the victims of the Christchurch mosque terror attacks, on Takapuna beach, March 16, 2019, in Auckland, New Zealand.
Cam McLaren/Getty Images

The police said they took the suspect into custody 36 minutes after receiving their first call. Authorities said that is “an incredibly fast response time.” To the victims, though, it was an eternity. Like the aftermath of Columbine, authorities here will learn from their response and adapt.

As you can imagine, this horrific tragedy has hit a raw nerve. Sky New Zealand says it has pulled Sky News Australia off-air until the channel stops broadcasting video from the live stream posted to social media.

In New Zealand, the gun laws are complex. The majority of guns purchased do not have to be registered. You have to hold a license to buy semiautomatics and handguns. That’s a stark contrast from the gun laws in neighboring Australia, which has some of the most restrictive gun policies in the world.

Authorities say the gunman purchased his five guns, including two semi-automatics, legally. He would have needed an additional special license to purchase high-capacity magazines. I’m told that in New Zealand, you can buy large-capacity magazines without being asked to show that specialty license. People are calling that a major loophole after this attack and it’s one of the first things people want to be changed here — saying everyone should have to show their license for all gun related purchases.

People take part in a vigil at the New Zealand War Memorial on Hyde Park Corner in London, March 15, 2019.
Dominic Lipinski/AP

It's important to note that in his online writings, the suspect says he chose to use guns instead of other weapons because he knew it would draw higher media attention and hoped it would spark political debate in the United States over the second amendment and ultimately lead to a race war.

The last mass shooting in New Zealand was in 1990 when 13 people were killed in a small community. That led to legislation that restricted the use of semi-automatic weapons like the AK-47. Violence here is so rare that police officers often do not carry guns. Murders rarely happen.

Meanwhile, a memorial near the first mosque continues to grow. People are leaving flowers, singing and crying at all hours of the day. One man, wiping tears from his eyes, told me that he would never have imagined the type of tragedy that he’s seen on international tv so many times could hit Christchurch.

A silver fern is projected onto the sails of the Opera House in commemoration of the victims of the Christchurch massacre, March 16, 2019, in Sydney, Australia.
James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Authorities arrested four people in all and one has already been released. They say they're trying to figure out if there’s a connection with the other two.

New Zealand does not have the death penalty. When asked what penalty the shooter should face, many residents simply shook their heads because it's hard for them to think of a punishment for an attack of this magnitude.

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