Christchurch shootings: How mass killings have changed gun laws

Christchurch shootings: How mass killings have changed gun laws

Vigil at Al Noor mosque, Christchurch

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New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is poised to announce details of gun law reforms following last Friday's mass shooting at two mosques.

Not every country reacts to mass shootings by changing the law. But there have been some notable examples where tragedies have led to a complete overhaul of legislation.


In 1996, 35 people were killed with illegally-owned guns around the historic site of Port Arthur in Tasmania.

The Australian government reacted by requiring states to ban all semi-automatic and self-loading weapons, and restricted certain other types of handgun.

It also introduced a comprehensive registration and licensing system and made the requirements for owning a gun tougher. A mandatory buyback scheme resulted in at least 600,000 guns being handed over to the authorities.

In the two decades before the law changed, there were 13 mass shootings.

In the more than 20 years since the law changed, there have been two mass shootings where four or more people were killed.

Two people were also killed in a shooting at a university campus in Melbourne, which led to further law changes.

Studies suggest that aside from the victims of the Port Arthur shooting, 69 gun homicides were recorded in 1996 compared with 30 in 2012. There was also a major reduction in firearms suicides with no comparable reduction in suicide by other means.


In 1996, a gunman opened fire at a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland, killing 17 people. The handguns he had with him were owned legally with a firearms certificate.

The massacre led to a change in the law in Scotland, England and Wales which effectively outlawed all private ownership of handguns.

An amnesty led to the surrender of 165,353 licensed handguns and 700 tonnes of ammunition by the spring of 1999.

This built on law changes that had been introduced a decade earlier, after a mass shooting in Hungerford in the south of England, which was carried out with legally licensed firearms.

The law change following the 1987 massacre banned semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, and certain types of ammunition, and tightened controls on shotguns.

There has been one mass shooting in Britain since Dunblane – in Cumbria in 2010.

There was a rise in gun crime in the years immediately following Dunblane, largely to do with changes in the gun market including a trend for air weapons like BB guns.

Offences involving these types of weapons were then taken out of firearms legislation and brought under anti-social behaviour legislation.

From the early 2000s until 2016 there was a significant, and relatively consistent, fall in gun crime excluding air weapons in England and Wales. However, this was against a backdrop of generally falling violent crime in that period, so we cannot pin the fall on gun laws alone.

There have been small rises in gun-related crime in the past two years and violent crime in England and Wales has risen by 19% in a year.

In the five years following the massacre, handgun crime in Scotland fell by 80%.


In 1989, a school shooting in Montreal, during which the gunman specifically targeted girls and women, led to a national debate around gun control.

The weapons he used were legally held.

A law was passed in 1991 in response to the shooting, restricting automatic and semi-automatic weapons. It also introduced a 28-day waiting period to apply for a firearms certificate and further background checks.

The requirement to pass a firearms safety course was introduced later.

The debate around this legislation led to a further law being passed, which meant all non-restricted weapons had to be registered. This requirement was repealed in 2012 and has been a source of debate since.

Findings from studies on the impact of Canada's gun control legislation have been mixed.

A 2004 study found "a significant decrease after [the passage of the 1991 Bill] in the rates of suicides and homicides involving firearms and the percentage of suicides using firearms".

But others have been more hesitant in drawing causal links.

Deaths by shooting excluding suicide fell considerably between 1991 and 2011, when firearms homicides hit their lowest level in 50 years.

Homicides by all means fell during that period.

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