Date: 13-14 November 1990
Location: Aramoana, New Zealand
Number killed: 12 by gunshots (including perpetrator), 2 in arson attack
Number injured: 2
Perpetrator: David Gray, 33 years old. Killed by police at the scene.
Weapons: Norinco 84S 5.56mm (.223) semi-automatic AK-47 lookalike with a 30-round magazine and a Remington model Nylon 66 .22 semi-automatic rifle, owned legally by virtue of Gray’s gun licence. He had been issued a new licence in 1984 following “limited vetting”, due to his previous ownership of a bolt-action rifle. At the time of the massacre he owned six rifles, four of which were semi-automatic. There was no limit to the amount of ammunition he was able to possess under the law at the time.
The gunman travelled to the house of his neighbour in the village of Aramoana one Tuesday evening and opened fire on the neighbour’s family – killing him and injuring his nine year old daughter, who ran away from the house and raised the alarm. He then set fire to the house. His neighbour’s daughter and step-daughter, both 11 years old, were later found dead in the burnt-out house.
The gunman then shot at people driving past in their cars, killing two six year old boys and injuring a four year old girl. He also entered a house and killed the people inside, as well as others running down the street.
Arriving on the scene, two police officers attempted to contain the shooter within his home. The shooter confronted one of them, killing him. More police were deployed to the village and searched for the gunman throughout the night, while shots could be heard in the surrounding area. An anti-terror squad was sent to help the armed police in their search. The standoff continued with the shooter, who was wearing camouflage gear and had blackened his face, shooting at a police helicopter and at officers. Nearly 24 hours after he began his shooting spree, the gunman was killed by police gunfire.
Law and wider context at the time:
New Zealand’s Arms Act 1983 had introduced lifetime firearms licences. Holders were required to be over the age of 16 and to be “fit and proper” to own firearms. There was no requirement to register weapons and a licence holder could own as many weapons as he or she wished. Restricted weapons and pistols could be owned legally by virtue of a special licence endorsement and an acquisition permit. Due to the “licence but no registration” policy, the police could only estimate the numbers of guns and gun owners, and any trends in gun misuse. This policy still forms the basis of New Zealand gun laws today.
The right to possess firearms is not guaranteed by law in New Zealand.
Sir Thomas Thorp reported in his 1997 review of firearms legislation that despite the deep abhorrence felt by the public towards mass shootings, they were unable to reach a consensus as to the appropriate legal reaction. The report also found that the use of military style semi-automatic weapons, which were the source of most of the public’s concern, occurred in mass shootings far more frequently than in police estimates for the wider population.
Law and wider context after:
The 1983 Act was amended following the massacre at Aramoana. The new amendments and restrictions required a special licence endorsement and acquisition permit for military style semi-automatic weapons like the ones used by David Gray. A total ban on these types of weapons was rejected on the basis that compensation to existing owners would be too expensive, as well as opposition from gun rights groups. The new laws also required a firearms licence to purchase ammunition and revoked lifetime licences, which were replaced by ten year licences. A written permit system for mail orders and stricter storage conditions were also introduced. Even after the 1992 Amendment Act, only around 4% of firearms were registered in New Zealand.
An official report into gun laws was ordered by the government in 1996. Following the Dunblane (UK) and Port Arthur (Australia) massacres, the report found that a radical review of gun controls was needed in New Zealand. Recommendations included imposing a limit on the number of handguns per licensee and on magazine capacity for semi-automatic weapons, revoking licences following conviction of certain offences, and permitting voluntary disclosure of mental health records by health professionals. A bill containing the recommendations was introduced in 1999 but failed to pass due to strong opposition in Parliament.
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