After massacre, New Zealand leader shows resolve, empathy
By STEVE McMORRAN and NICK PERRY
Sunday, March 17
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — The attributes that helped Jacinda Ardern rise to become New Zealand’s leader at age 37 include her optimistic outlook and bright personality. And she became an inspiration to working women around the world last year when she gave birth to a daughter, Neve.
But the prime minister is now displaying other qualities to an anxious nation after a gunman on Friday slaughtered 50 people at two Christchurch mosques. She’s shown a determination to change gun laws and a deep empathy with the families of the victims and the Muslim community.
On Friday afternoon at a simple table laid in a hotel conference room in New Plymouth, a city on New Zealand’s North Island, Ardern told the nation about the shootings. Details were sparse, but her shaken demeanor, a tremor in her voice, made it clear the situation was grave.
Mass shootings were almost unheard of in New Zealand. People wanted reassurance and information.
When she next spoke from Parliament in Wellington she was calmer, more resolute. She gave details of a mounting death toll and of an offender in custody, an Australian man who had chosen New Zealand for his crime.
“You may have chosen us,” she said. “We utterly reject and condemn you.”
When President Donald Trump called Ardern to offer his sympathies and ask what assistance the U.S. might provide, Ardern said she would welcome sympathy and love toward Muslim communities. It was a rebuke, of sorts, toward the perception of Trump as being anti-Islamic.
On Friday, Ardern flew to Christchurch. She donned a simple hijab and met with families of those killed and wounded.
At a refugee center, she told Muslim leaders that the country was united in its grief.
“This is not New Zealand,” she said. “The only part of the incident and actions that we have seen over the past 24, 36 hours that is New Zealand is the support that you are seeing now.”
Ardern did not avoid the thorny political issues arising from the shooting, the question of how the gunman obtained five firearms, including two military-style weapons. New Zealand’s liberal gun laws allow easier access to those weapons than in Australia.
“I can tell you right now our gun laws will change,” she said.
She demanded her intelligence agencies explain why they knew nothing about the gunman, who emailed a manifesto outlining his plans to Ardern’s office minutes before the shooting.
She promised immediate financial assistance to survivors, including families who had lost their only breadwinner or who faced the cost of funerals.
Friday’s events were the first major test Ardern has faced since she became prime minister in a contentious general election in 2017. She had only become leader of the liberal Labour Party a few weeks earlier when the party had slumped to its lowest-ever poll rating.
She immediately boosted its popularity, attracting a new constituency to Labour through her youth and optimism. It disguised a tough and experienced political operative.
When Ardern was elected prime minister she had already been a lawmaker for nine years, starting as New Zealand’s youngest sitting member of Parliament. She had previously been a researcher for New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and a policy adviser to Tony Blair, the British prime minister at the time.
She is progressive but pragmatic, willing to woo big business and shelve difficult liberal issues that might alienate a larger constituency.
Until Friday, her toughest task had been to hold together the brittle and disparate political coalition between her Labour Party and two other parties, the Greens and New Zealand First.
Since taking office, Ardern has become an international celebrity and a counterpoint to the rise of populist leaders. But her popularity abroad has masked domestic difficulties. There were political missteps, minor scandals, dissent with coalition partners.
In the week before the Christchurch shooting, Ardern’s major political challenges had been dealing with the fallout from a proposal to introduce a capital gains tax and complaints of a conflict-of-interest affecting one of her ministers.
On the day of the shooting she was to address schoolchildren participating in a global classroom strike and protest against inaction on climate change. Ardern is a fierce advocate for combating global warming and it was an event at which she’d usually be in her element.
But on Friday, the trajectory of her leadership irrevocably changed.
McMorran reported from Wellington, New Zealand.
Synagogue that suffered massacre raises funds for NZ Muslims
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh synagogue that was the site of a shooting massacre that left 11 worshippers dead has started a fundraising campaign through GoFundMe to support New Zealand’s Muslim community.
An Australian white supremacist is charged with killing 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday prayers.
Tree of Life congregation president Sam Schachner tells the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “we’re unfortunately part of a club that nobody wants to be part of, and we wanted to reach out to New Zealand in the same way everyone reached out to us.”
The synagogue said it recalls “with love the immediate, overwhelming support” it received from Muslims in Pittsburgh.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is also raising funds.
A gunman who expressed hatred of Jews is charged in the Oct. 27 synagogue attack.
Should media avoid naming the gunmen in mass shootings?
By LISA MARIE PANE
Monday, March 18
A few months after teen shooters killed 12 classmates and her father at Columbine High School, Coni Sanders was standing in line at a grocery store with her young daughter when they came face to face with the magazine cover.
It showed the two gunmen who had carried out one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. Sanders realized that few people knew much about her father, who saved countless lives. But virtually everyone knew the names and the tiniest of details about the attackers who carried out the carnage.
In the decades since Columbine, a growing movement has urged news organizations to refrain from naming the shooters in mass slayings and to cease the steady drumbeat of biographical information about them. Critics say giving the assailants notoriety offers little to help understand the attacks and instead fuels celebrity-style coverage that only encourages future attacks.
The 1999 Colorado attack continues to motivate mass shooters, including the two men who this week stormed their former school in Brazil, killing seven people.
The gunman who attacked two mosques in New Zealand on Friday, killing at least 49 people, was said to have been inspired by the man who in 2015 killed nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Adam Lankford, a criminologist at the University of Alabama, who has studied the influence of media coverage on future shooters, said it’s vitally important to avoid excessive coverage of gunmen.
“A lot of these shooters want to be treated like celebrities. They want to be famous. So the key is to not give them that treatment,” he said.
The notion hit close to home for Sanders. Seemingly everywhere she turned — the grocery store, a restaurant, a newspaper or magazine — she would see the faces of the Columbine attackers and hear or read about them. Even in her own home, she was bombarded with their deeds on TV.
Everyone knew their names. “And if you said the two together, they automatically knew it was Columbine,” Sanders said. “The media was so fascinated — and so was our country and the world — that they really grasped onto this every detail. Time and time again, we couldn’t escape it.”
Criminologists who study mass shootings say the vast majority of shooters are seeking infamy and soak up the coverage as a guide.
Just four days after the 2017 Las Vegas concert shooting, which stands as the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Lankford published a paper urging journalists to refrain from using shooters’ names or going into exhaustive detail about their crimes.
These attackers, he argued, are trying to outdo previous shooters with higher death tolls. Media coverage serves only to encourage copycats.
Late last year, the Trump administration’s federal Commission on School Safety called on the media to refrain from reporting the names and photos of mass shooters. It was one of the rare moments when gun-rights advocates and gun-control activists agreed.
“To suggest that the media alone is to blame or is primarily at fault for this epidemic of mass shootings would vastly oversimply this issue,” said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel for the Giffords Law Center, which works to curb gun violence.
Skaggs said he is “somewhat sympathetic to journalists’ impulse to cover clearly important and newsworthy events and to get at the truth. … But there’s a balance that can be struck between ensuring the public has enough information … and not giving undue attention to perpetrators of heinous acts.”
Studies show a contagion effect from coverage of both homicides and suicides.
The Columbine shooters, in particular, have an almost cult-like status, with some followers seeking to emulate their trench-coat attire and expressing admiration for their crime, which some have attributed to bullying. The gunman in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting kept a detailed journal of decades’ worth of mass shootings.
James Alan Fox, a professor at Northeastern University who has studied mass shootings, said naming shooters is not the problem. Instead, he blamed over-the-top coverage that includes irrelevant details about the killers, such as their writings and their backgrounds, that “unnecessarily humanizes them.”
“We sometimes come to know more about them — their interests and their disappointments — than we do about our next-door neighbors,” Fox said.
Law enforcement agencies have taken a lead, most recently with the Aurora, Illinois, police chief, who uttered just once the name of the gunman who killed five co-workers and wounded five officers last month.
“I said his name one time for the media, and I will never let it cross my lips again,” Chief Kristen Ziman said in a Facebook post.
Some media, most notably CNN’s Anderson Cooper, have made a point of avoiding using the name of these gunmen.
The Associated Press names suspects identified by law enforcement in major crimes. However, in cases in which the crime is carried out seeking publicity, the AP strives to restrict the mention of the name to the minimum needed to inform the public, while avoiding descriptions that might serve a criminal’s desire for publicity or self-glorification, said John Daniszewski, the AP’s vice president and editor-at-large for standards.
For Caren and Tom Teves, the cause is personal. Their son Alex was among those killed in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater in 2012.
They were both traveling out of state when the shooting happened, and it took 15 hours for them to learn the fate of their son. During those hours, they heard repeatedly about the shooter but virtually nothing about the victims.
Not long after, they created the No Notoriety movement, encouraging media to stick to reporting relevant facts rather than the smallest of biographical details. They also recommend publishing images of the shooter in places that are not prominent, steering clear of “hero” poses or images showing them holding weapons, and not publishing any manifestos.
“We never say don’t use the name. What we say is use the name responsibly and don’t turn them into anti-heroes,” Tom Teves said. “Let’s portray them for what they are: They’re horrible human beings that are completely skewed in their perception of reality, and their one claim to fortune is sneaking up behind you and shooting you.”
Why overhauling NZ’s gun and terrorism laws alone can’t stop terrorist attacks
March 15, 2019
Author: John Battersby, Police Teaching Fellow, Massey University
Disclosure statement: John Battersby does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Massey University provides funding as a member of The Conversation NZ. Massey University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.
My research focuses on terrorism in or affecting New Zealand. Until Friday, my phone didn’t ring that often because few were interested in anything I had to say. Since yesterday, it has not stopped.
There is no understating the horrific nature of the Christchurch tragedy. Fifty people have been killed, and more than 40 are being treated for injuries at Christchurch hospital.
Three people have been arrested in relation to the mosque shootings. One Australian citizen has appeared in court charged with murder.
New Zealanders will need to come to terms with this tragedy, vent emotions and frustrations, and they will want to know why this could not be stopped. These are valid questions.
New Zealand is a small country, geographically distant from the rest of the world. It has been happy in the assumption that the violent extremism that has showed itself on multiple occasions on five continents over the last 20 years had never happened here. Many New Zealanders believed that because it hadn’t, it couldn’t.
Geographic isolation no protection
There was a definite realisation by those in the security sector that this assumption was not safe. The spread of extremism through social media simply obliterates geographical distance and there is really nothing to prevent overseas events being replicated here.
The emphasis was on monitoring and detecting extremism – in whatever form it took. The few arrests for possession and distribution of ISIS related propaganda exhibit that fact. It was not confined – as some commentators have suggested – to just those engaging with violent jihadism.
Another key problem is hindsight. Now that the culmination of a sequence of activities has become so painfully clear, it will be inevitable that several points will be picked out that security sector operators perhaps did see, or could have seen. A retrospective case will be made that therefore they should have seen this coming.
But any sign there was, would have occurred in the context of the day before yesterday. Trying to convince the average New Zealander that anything like this could ever happen here would have been no easy endeavour.
Review of gun and terrorism laws
There will be questions over the resourcing and powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and rightfully so. But we must be mature and evidence-based in the conclusions we take from all this.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a review of gun laws. New Zealand doesn’t have a gun register, but there are an estimated 1.3 million legally owned firearms, with illegal firearms a significant problem.
It is not just the law that needs a review. Gun control, monitoring and enforcement will need to be tightened, but changes need to be considered calmly and focus on the individuals that are not likely to abide by any new law. The vast majority of licensed gun owners are not a problem, but they will need to accept that military-style automatic weapons will likely be banned and a national register will become a reality.
New Zealand’s Terrorism Suppression Act was found wanting in 2007, following the “Urewera raids”. Police relied on the act to spy on and arrest activists who allegedly trained to use semi-automatic weapons in military-style camps in the Urewera forest. Then Solicitor-General David Collins QC described the act as “incoherent and unworkable”. Nothing meaningful has been done with it since.
Social media to blame
New Zealand is a democratic country in which freedom of expression, conscience, religious freedom and free speech are valued. Any legislative change will need to impinge on these as little as possible, but people need to be safe here.
Read more: Why news outlets should think twice about republishing the New Zealand mosque shooter’s livestream
Regardless of how big and well-resourced security agencies are, overseas experience has shown that individual actors, or small tightly integrated groups can slip through any security filter. It is simply impossible to monitor people’s thoughts, intentions, sayings and social media accounts so closely that every signal that someone might be planning to carry out an attack is seen.
Australian media suggestions of an “intelligence failure” are useful to a point. But the fact that at least one of the Christchurch offenders left Australia a short time ago and was not on any watch-list of concern in Australia, where police and intelligence powers are much more comprehensive, demonstrates this is a very difficult failure to guard against.
This attack was enabled by, and certainly comprised a strong element of, social media. Social media has been wilfully and readily adopted across modern societies. This has happened without much thought being given to its usefulness to organised criminals or extremists to spread their toxic views, or its ready use as a means of sourcing an audience for terror attacks.
As a society perhaps we should take pause to consider the broader implications before rushing to adopt every new piece of communications technology. It’s all very well to ask the security sector what could they have done to stop this attack, when we could ask ourselves the same – what could we have done?
Sandy Hook lawsuit court victory opens crack in gun maker immunity shield
March 15, 2019
Author: Timothy D. Lytton, Distinguished University Professor & Professor of Law, Georgia State University
Disclosure statement: Timothy D. Lytton has provided expert consulting services to law firms representing gun violence victims.
Partners: Georgia State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled on March 14 that families of the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting victims could proceed with a lawsuit against the companies that manufactured and sold the semiautomatic rifle used in the attack.
The ruling, which reversed a lower court’s decision, has the potential to unleash a flood of claims by gun violence victims against gun manufacturers – if it’s upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, that is.
My research on the history of lawsuits against the gun industry has documented the failure of gun violence victims to hold gun manufacturers liable for legal marketing practices that many people consider irresponsible. The latest Sandy Hook decision could pave the way for gunmakers to finally be held responsible for them.
A 2006 law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act grants gun manufacturers immunity from lawsuits that arise out of the criminal misuse of a weapon.
The Sandy Hook families argued that their lawsuit fell under an exception to this federal immunity. The exception allows gun violence victims to sue a manufacturer who “knowingly violated a state or federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing” of a firearm.
The families claimed that Remington Arms “marketed, advertised and promoted the Bushmaster XM15-E2S for civilians to use to carry out offensive, military style combat missions against their perceived enemies.” They said that this marketing constituted an unfair trade practice under Connecticut law, which they argued is a state statute “applicable” to the marketing of a firearm.
The Connecticut high court agreed and, importantly, interpreted the term “applicable” broadly. That is, the court said that a relevant statute only had to be “capable of being applied” to gun sales, not that the law needed be specifically about firearms, as other courts had held.
It is this interpretation that could potentially unleash a flood of lawsuits across the country.
Since many states have unfair trade practices laws like Connecticut’s, it seems likely that gun violence victims will bring similar claims elsewhere. Victims are thus likely to allege that a gun manufacturer’s aggressive marketing of combat-style weapons violates a state statute – like an unfair trade practice law – that is applicable to the sale or marketing of a firearm.
The fate of the Sandy Hook lawsuit and any others that follow will depend on the outcome of an all-but-certain appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the court rejects the Connecticut Supreme Court’s broad interpretation of the word “applicable” in the federal statue, that will restore the immunity from suit that gun makers have enjoyed for more than a decade.
However, if the top U.S. court adopts Connecticut’s broad interpretation, then the gun industry can expect to be the target of a great deal more litigation in the years to come.