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Semi-Automatic Weapons Have No Place Here, New Zealand Parliament Member Says


In New Zealand, the bodies of the victims of last Friday's terror attacks are being washed and prepared for a Muslim burial. Fifty people were killed when a gunman targeted two mosques in the city of Christchurch. The victims were mostly Muslim immigrants. New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, promised that she will push changes to the country's gun laws. But she also said, when it comes to the gunman, there is one thing she won't do.


PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety, and that is why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.

MARTIN: We're going to hear now from a member of New Zealand's Parliament. Nicky Wagner is based in Christchurch. I spoke with her earlier this morning and asked if she agrees with the prime minister about the need to tighten the gun laws.

NICKY WAGNER: We are enormously, I suppose, insulted and affronted that somebody would travel the world and then come to our town to destroy the peace that we have in our city. We do need to change our laws.

MARTIN: How would you like to change them? I mean, do you think a ban on semiautomatic weapons is sufficient? Would you like to see them - even broader changes?

WAGNER: There's a lot of debate at the moment, and I think we will all be finding the best way to go. Certainly, we want to make sure that weapons that are designed to kill and to kill quickly and efficiently - we don't believe have a place in New Zealand.

MARTIN: A lot of people in New Zealand do own guns, though. There's a strong hunting heritage. A lot of people have gun collections. If you ban semiautomatic weapons or other guns is this going to be a big culture shift?

WAGNER: No, I don't think it's a cultural change. The vast majority of New Zealanders who do have guns - and we are a rural community, as well as citified - use their guns wisely. They keep them securely, and they're not dangerous. We don't arm our police. So this is not a huge cultural change, but what we need to do is make sure that we stop people who may not use our guns properly to get them.

MARTIN: Our reporter Rob Schmitz is in Christchurch, and he has been talking to a whole cross-section of people, including gun owners, and I want to play a bit of a conversation that he had with one of them. His name is Thomas Jones (ph), and he owns a hunting business. He owns guns himself. He has 12 guns, including four semiautomatic weapons. Let's listen to a little bit of what he had to say.

THOMAS JONES: And it's really disappointing to have the government throw on us what one person did and punish 250,000 gun owners at least, if not more, just because of what one man does.

MARTIN: What do you say to him?

WAGNER: I say that this is a discussion that all New Zealanders have to be involved in. There is absolutely no doubt that every New Zealander wants to make sure we don't have an increase of gun crime in our country and we don't have an increase in terrorism. And if by strengthening our gun laws we will get to that outcome, I think every New Zealander will support it.

MARTIN: Do a majority of parliamentarians support it? Is this something - the ban on semiautomatic weapons - is this going to pass easily?

WAGNER: I think we're getting in front of ourselves. There has not been that discussion in Parliament. The prime minister is talking about changes to the gun laws. I think every parliamentarian will support some changes to the gun laws. But the final detail of what the government is going to suggest has not come to us.

MARTIN: We have heard repeatedly over the last few days about how exceptional this attack is in New Zealand. But there is evidence that the white supremacist movement is not completely unheard of in New Zealand. Can you tell us about how that movement has evolved in New Zealand?

WAGNER: It's an interesting question because it is not overtly in New Zealand, and certainly, we have not had these attacks before. Obviously, we have the full range of personalities and opinions in our country, but the idea that there is a strong white supremist movement, I think most people don't agree.

MARTIN: So you don't see any new tensions in the country as a result of immigration over the last couple of decades?

WAGNER: There has been question about immigration, but in terms of New Zealand, we have had a pretty buoyant economy. We have needed more workers. So certainly, the feeling of tolerance in Christchurch is strong, and if there has been any white supremacist thinking, it certainly hasn't shown its head since the earthquakes have been.

MARTIN: So is it your hope then that this massacre is something that clearly won't be repeated, but that it does not embolden other white supremacists in the country to come forward and start to undermine the open, tolerant culture that you have in Christchurch and in New Zealand more broadly?

WAGNER: Absolutely. We are very hopeful that this will never happen again, and the people across New Zealand have been very strong in standing together and repudiating what the gunman did.

MARTIN: Nicky Wagner - she is a member of parliament from Christchurch, in New Zealand. Thank you so much for your time.

WAGNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.