New Zealand Prime Minister Says Gun Laws Will Change Following Mosque Shootings
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Families are waiting to bury the 50 people killed in Friday's attack on two mosques. Other victims are still in the hospital. And New Zealand's government plans to announce changes to the country's gun laws within 10 days. Meanwhile, more details are emerging about the accused. NPR's Rob Schmitz reports from Christchurch.
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ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: In a park across the street from the Al Noor Mosque, a man sitting under a tree plays the flute while dozens of residents lay flowers and letters along a perimeter marked by police tape. This is still a crime scene, the site of the worst terrorist attack on New Zealand soil.
Hady Osman just arrived from a work trip in San Francisco. He rushed home when he learned his friend Atta was killed. He says the outpouring of love is helping him cope with losing a friend.
HADY OSMAN: Just the amount of letters and messages from me everybody just, you know, made it very, very difficult. There's a photo of our friend with a T-shirt signed from the football team. That was very, very difficult, yeah.
SCHMITZ: What's more difficult at this point, says Osman, is that Atta's father, who was shot but is recovering in the hospital, hasn't yet been told his son has died. He says the family is a prominent one in Christchurch. They established a Muslim school for children - a school, he says, where they believe the attacker was headed before police finally stopped his killing spree.
PETE BREIDAHL: There was just something about the guy that terrified me.
SCHMITZ: Pete Breidahl, a former member of New Zealand's defence force, says he's almost certain he met the alleged killer at the Bruce Rifle Club near his home on the southern tip of the country's South Island.
BREIDAHL: There were numerous people that really worried me, but there were a couple of people that terrified me.
SCHMITZ: Breidahl says the men that hung out at the club routinely dressed in camouflage - typically against the rules at New Zealand's rifle clubs - and they had Confederate flag stickers on their cars and rifle cases. He remembers them discussing the 1996 mass shooting in Port Arthur, Australia, that killed nearly three dozen people and recounting how they would have carried it out to maximize casualties. Breidahl said the men at the club called Muslim immigrants terrorists.
BREIDAHL: The way these guys spoke - Islamophobic would be one word. And they lived in a bit of a fantasy world.
SCHMITZ: The Bruce Rifle Club issued a statement to the media denying Breidahl's allegations but said it would conduct a review of its culture.
In the meantime, New Zealand's government is reviewing its own gun laws. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today that reforms to the country's gun laws will be announced within 10 days.
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SCHMITZ: And that's why the phones at Shooters Supplies are ringing off the hook. The Christchurch gun shop is owned by Andrew Taylor. He says since Friday, he's been receiving a lot of calls asking to buy semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15, which was used in the Christchurch attack and which many people think will soon be banned. They're also asking for high-capacity magazines which enable guns to shoot far more bullets than they're designed for. Taylor's responded by saying no.
ANDREW TAYLOR: Anyone can buy those magazines. They're just not allowed to put them in their gun. But if they do, well, what can we do? So we've pulled the sales of those, and we've pulled the sales of all of the AR platform guns until we hear further notice from the police or the government to what we are supposed to do.
SCHMITZ: But that's not going to bring back the friends of Abdul Quddush Khan. He lost three friends in the attacks, one who he grew up with in Fiji many decades ago. They both became imams. And his friend was visiting his daughter when he stopped by the mosque to pray before being murdered there. Khan's flown here from Sydney to be with his friends' families. He may be an imam, but he admits he feels powerless to help them through their grief.
ABDUL QUDDUSH KHAN: So what we will do, we'll go and meet the families and talk to them. You know, at least we can share them - you know, share the grief. That's all. We can't do much. We can't give their family back. We can't give them back. (Unintelligible). When I see them, I think about my own children - if this thing happens to me and my family. But I (sobbing)...
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SCHMITZ: Just then, Khan's phone rings. He reaches into his robe and takes the call, still crying. It's someone who needs his help. And he's here to do just that.
Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Christchurch. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.