Mass shooting

FILE PHOTO: Firearms and accessories are displayed in a gunshop in Christchurch
FILE PHOTO: Firearms and accessories are displayed at Gun City gunshop in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

April 12, 2019

SYDNEY (Reuters) – New Zealand’s state pension fund will sell off investments of NZ$19 million ($13 million) in makers of weapons outlawed by tough new firearms laws following the country’s worst peacetime mass shooting, it said on Friday.

Lawmakers voted almost unanimously this week to ban military-style semi-automatic guns and assault rifles less than a month after a lone gunman used them to kill 50 worshippers in attacks on mosques in Christchurch.

“Companies involved in the manufacture of civilian automatic and semi-automatic firearms, magazines or parts prohibited under New Zealand law have been excluded from the NZ$41 billion NZ Super Fund,” the fund said on its website.

The move was a response to the new law, it said, and identified holdings in seven companies to be affected by its decision, including American Outdoor Brands Corp, Sturm, Ruger & Co Inc and NOF Corp.

The others are Vista Outdoor Inc, OLIN Corp, Richemont and Daicel Corp.

Others may be identified in future, added the fund, which gave no timeframe for its divestments.

Makers of tobacco and some other munitions are already excluded from its investment mandate.

Authorities have charged Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, with 50 counts of murder following the Christchurch attacks.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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FILE PHOTO: Firearms and accessories are displayed in a gunshop in Christchurch
FILE PHOTO: Firearms and accessories are displayed at Gun City gunshop in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

April 11, 2019

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand police expect tens of thousands of firearms to be surrendered in a guns buy-back scheme after parliament passed tough new firearm laws in the wake of the country’s worst peacetime mass shooting.

Lawmakers in New Zealand voted almost unanimously on Wednesday to change gun laws, less than a month after a lone gunman killed 50 people in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch.

The new legislation bars the circulation and use of most semi-automatic firearms, parts that convert firearms into semi-automatic firearms, magazines over a certain capacity, and some shotguns. This includes the gun used by the suspect in the Christchurch shooting.

It granted an amnesty until Sept. 30 for people to surrender prohibited items. More than 300 weapons had already been handed in, police minister Stuart Nash told parliament.

Police Deputy Police Commissioner Michael Clement told a news conference on Thursday that they are not sure how many guns they would receive as New Zealand has no law requiring people to register firearms.

“Its a great unknown question…everybody appreciates that there is no register of firearms with regards to the type of firearms we are talking about,” Clement said.

“So It could be in the tens of thousands, it could be more,” he added.

There are about 1.2-1.5 million firearms in New Zealand, according to gunpolicy.org. Of these, the government has said that a record of licenses show 13,500 firearms are military style semi-automatics (MSSAs). But the number could be higher.

Clement said details are being worked out of the gun buy-back scheme and he urged gun owners in possession of the prohibited firearms to register online.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has estimated that the gun buy-backs would cost the government between NZ$100-200 million but other government ministers have warned that the costs could be higher depending on how many guns are handed to the police.

Authorities have charged Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, with 50 counts of murder following the Christchurch attacks on March 15.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Michael Perry)

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FILE PHOTO - Small toy figures are seen in front of Facebook logo in this illustration picture
FILE PHOTO – Small toy figures are seen in front of Facebook logo in this illustration picture, April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

April 9, 2019

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google unit on Tuesday defended their efforts to remove hate speech from social media sites amid questions from lawmakers in an appearance before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, who chairs the panel, said white nationalist groups target communities of color and religious minorities through social media.

“Efforts by media companies to counter this surge have fallen short, and social network platforms continue to be used as ready avenues to spread dangerous white nationalist speech,” Nadler said at the hearing.

Social media firms use algorithms and human reviewers to remove hateful speech.

In March, the chair of the House Homeland Security committee wrote top executives of Facebook, Google, Twitter Inc and Microsoft Corp, urging them to do a better job of removing violent political content following the live-streaming of a New Zealand mass shooting.

Neil Potts, a public policy director at Facebook, told lawmakers that Facebook in March “instituted a prohibition on praise, support, and representation of white nationalism and white separatism.”

Google wants to be a “part of the solution,” company executive Alexandria Walden said at Tuesday’s hearing, adding that Google has invested “heavily in machines and people to quickly identify and remove content that violates our policies against incitement to violence and hate speech.”

Google’s YouTube, which streamed the hearing live, disabled comments on the hearing after numerous hateful and racist postings.

In November, the FBI said U.S. hate crimes jumped 17 percent in 2017, with a 37 percent spike in anti-Semitic attacks.

Ellen Hershenov, senior vice president for policy at Anti-Defamation League, told lawmakers the “internet is forcing us to reassess our understanding of how violence may be inspired by such hateful echo chambers.”

Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the panel, denounced white nationalism. “Free expression, free press and blind justice,” he added, are “the very things that foster diversity and deter intellectually bankrupt ideologies like white nationalism.”

In response to suggestions social media companies discriminate against conservative viewpoints, Potts said Facebook errs “on the side of allowing more speech.”

“We want to give people the voice but we do have to draw a line somewhere,” he noted.

Representative Cedric Richmond, a Democrat, said it was important to prevent social media users from preying on weak people to incite violence.

“Just because you are upset with your station in life, and sitting in your momma’s basement in your boxers you don’t get to spew hate that you know will incite violence because you can hide behind anonymity,” Richmond said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Richard Chang)

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FILE PHOTO: Worker Marilyn MacKay assembles a rifle at the Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. gun factory in Newport, New Hampshire
FILE PHOTO: Worker Marilyn MacKay assembles a rifle at the Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. gun factory in Newport, New Hampshire January 6, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/File Photo

April 9, 2019

By Ross Kerber

BOSTON (Reuters) – Investor activists said on Monday they will campaign to unseat two directors at gunmaker Sturm Ruger & Co, citing what they called its resistance to their concerns after shareholders won a battle over safety at last year’s annual meeting.

The plan for this year’s gathering, set for May 8 in New Hampshire, promises to renew a debate over how the company might respond to a series of mass shootings across the United States, including at schools, houses of worship and workplaces.

The activists include Majority Action, a liberal-leaning shareholder group, and religious investors affiliated with the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. While they hold a small number of Sturm Ruger shares, last year members of Interfaith Center won backing for a resolution from fund companies including top Ruger shareholders BlackRock Inc and Vanguard Group, showing an ability to set the agenda.

This year the activists said they will call on other investors to vote “withhold” on Sturm Ruger Chairman Michael Jacobi and on company director Sandra Froman, who is also a director of the National Rifle Association and was its president from 2005 to 2007.

Eli Kasargod-Staub, Majority Action’s executive director, said in an interview that Sturm Ruger should take a harder look at “smart gun” technology and hold talks with investors, dialogue it has rejected in the past.

He also said the company should step back from divisive cultural issues promoted by the NRA. Together, the topics “are the kind of issues that can and have been productively engaged on through dialogue with long-term investors at other companies,” he said.

A Sturm Ruger spokesman did not respond to messages on Monday.

Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson parent American Outdoor Brands Corp have faced new attention from gun safety activists after 17 people were killed at a mass shooting at a Florida high school in early 2018.

At Sturm Ruger’s annual meeting last May a resolution that called on the company to produce a report on the safety of its products won about two-thirds of votes cast over the company’s opposition. The document issued in February outlines safety features, improved background checks and other steps Sturm Ruger has taken, though the company cast doubt on the viability of smart guns and other technical changes suggested by the activists.

Top fund firms also backed all company directors despite their rare stance of avoiding talks with investors.

Sturm Ruger Chief Executive Christopher Killoy said at the meeting that fair disclosure rules kept it from speaking with BlackRock or Vanguard, although such meetings are common elsewhere.

(Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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54th Academy of Country Music Awards- Show - Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
54th Academy of Country Music Awards- Show – Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., April 7, 2019 – Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn present the entertainer of the year award to Keith Urban. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

April 8, 2019

By Chris Michaud

(Reuters) – Country music royalty turned out in force on Sunday for a glittering night of live performances and honors at the 54th annual Academy of Country Music awards.

Host Reba McEntire, marking a record 16th time in the job, wasted no time in addressing one of the evening’s touchy subjects – the lack of women nominees in some top categories.

Noting recent snow in Las Vegas, where the awards were held in a live, performance-heavy broadcast, McEntire quipped “it was so cold it froze us women out of entertainer of the year.”

Grammy award album of the year winner Kacey Musgraves was glaringly absent from the all-male nominees top category.

The honor went to Keith Urban, whose wife actress Nicole Kidman appeared genuinely shocked at his win.

But Musgraves took home both the album of the year and female artist of the year awards.

Accepting the latter, Musgraves said “I’m so thankful for the chance to share my political perspective,” dedicating the award to women who felt pressure to silence themselves.

And women ruled the MGM Grand Garden Arena stage as Chrissy Metz, of hit NBC show “This Is Us,” made her live TV performance debut, alongside country stars Lauren Alaina, Mickey Guyton and Maddie & Tae for a stirring rendition of “I’m Standing With You.”

Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line opened the show with a rousing performance of “Can’t Hide Red,” but some on social media took offense to Tyler Hubbard’s American flag suit, branding it a “disgrace” besmirching a sacrosanct national symbol.

Dan + Shay scored three straight early wins, for song of the year and single of the year for “Tequila,” also winning duo of the year.

Male artist of the year went to Thomas Rhett.

The star-laden three-hour show marked an upbeat return to celebrating country music after last year’s awards assumed a somber note following the October 2017 mass shooting, also in Las Vegas, that killed 58 people at a country music festival.

Aldean, who was performing when shooting broke out, received the ACM artist of the decade award.

Other A-list country stars performing included Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Urban, Brooks & Dunn, Miranda Lambert, McEntire and George Strait.

(Editing by Michael Perry)

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FILE PHOTO: Facebook logo is reflected in glasses in this picture illustration
FILE PHOTO: Facebook logo is reflected in glasses in this picture illustration taken April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/File Photo

April 7, 2019

By Paul Sandle and Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain proposed new online safety laws on Monday that would slap penalties on social media companies and technology firms if they fail to protect their users from harmful content.

Easy access to damaging material particularly among young people has caused growing concern worldwide and came into the spotlight in Britain after the death of 14-year-old schoolgirl Molly Russell, which her parents said came after she had viewed online material on depression and suicide.

Governments across the world are wrestling over how to better control content on social media platforms, often blamed for encouraging abuse, the spread of online pornography, and for influencing or manipulating voters.

Global worries were recently stoked by the live streaming of the mass shooting at a mosque in New Zealand on one of Facebook’s platforms, after which Australia said it would fine social media and web hosting companies and imprison executives if violent content is not removed “expeditiously”.

In a policy paper widely trailed in British media, the government said it would look into possibly using fines, blocking access to websites, and imposing liability on senior tech company management for failing to limit the distribution of harmful content.

It would also set up a regulator to police the rules.

TechUK, an industry trade group, said the paper was a significant step forward, but one which needed to be firmed up during its 12-week consultation. It said some aspects of the government’s approach were too vague.

“It is vital that the new framework is effective, proportionate and predictable,” techUK said in a statement, adding not all concerns could be addressed through regulation.

Facebook said it was looking forward to working with the government to ensure new regulations were effective, repeating its founder Mark Zuckerberg’s line that regulations were needed to have a standard approach across platforms.

COMPLEX ISSUES

Rebecca Stimson, Facebook’s head of UK public policy, said any new rules should strike a balance between protecting society and supporting innovation and free speech.

“These are complex issues to get right and we look forward to working with the government and parliament to ensure new regulations are effective,” Stimson said in a statement.

Prime Minister Theresa May said that while the Internet could be brilliant at connecting people, it had not done enough to protect users, especially children and young people.

“That is not good enough, and it is time to do things differently,” May said in a statement. “We have listened to campaigners and parents, and are putting a legal duty of care on internet companies to keep people safe.”

The duty of care would make companies take more responsibility for the safety of users and tackle harm caused by content or activity on their services. The regulator, funded by industry in the medium term, will set clear safety standards.

A committee of lawmakers has also demanded more is done to make political advertising and campaigning on social media more transparent.

“It is vital that our electoral law is brought up to date as soon as possible, so that social media users know who is contacting them with political messages and why,” said Conservative Damian Collins, who chairs the parliamentary committee for digital, culture, media and sport.

“Should there be an early election, then emergency legislation should be introduced to achieve this.”

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Paul Sandle; Editing by David Holmes)

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Flowers and cards are seen at the memorial site for the victims of Friday's shooting, outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch
Flowers and cards are seen at the memorial site for the victims of Friday’s shooting, outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

April 4, 2019

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Australian man accused of killing 50 Muslim worshippers in gun attacks on two mosques in Christchurch will face 50 murder charges and 39 attempted murder charges, New Zealand police said on Thursday.

“Other charges are still under consideration,” police said in a statement.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was previously charged with only one murder following the attack and has been remanded without a plea.

He is due back in court on Friday. The March 15 attack was the worst mass shooting by a lone gunman in New Zealand.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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FILE PHOTO: A police officer stands guard outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch
FILE PHOTO: A police officer stands guard outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

March 30, 2019

By Charlotte Greenfield and Praveen Menon

CHRISTCHURCH/WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Weeks before a gunman killed 50 Muslims in Christchurch, a man had threatened to burn copies of the Koran outside New Zealand mosques, in what community leaders said was the latest in a long list of threatening behavior against religious minorities.

Police said they warned a 38-year-old man over the incident, which was unrelated to the Christchurch attack, but could not say if it was part of a pattern.

That’s because, unlike many Western countries including the United Kingdom and the United States, New Zealand’s government keeps no comprehensive record of hate crimes, failing to act on requests to do so from local and international agencies spanning more than a decade.

“For many years our view has consistently been that this needs to be prioritized and implemented urgently,” said Janet Anderson-Bidois, Chief Legal Adviser at the Human Rights Commission, the independent government agency tasked with protecting human rights.

“It is imperative that we have good data.”

A suspected white supremacist has been charged with murder over the Christchurch shootings and will appear in court again on April 5.

In the wake of New Zealand’s worst mass shooting, questions are being asked about what signs agencies missed and where resources should have been allocated to protect vulnerable communities.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ordered a Royal Commission, a powerful form of inquiry, into the attack.

Anwar Ghani from the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, said anecdotal evidence suggested there had been a rise in anti-Muslim behavior in recent years.

“When there is a hot spot in global events and when Muslims are involved…we do see the pulse of hate crime coming from certain members of the community,” he said.

“NOT A PRIORITY”

Joris De Bres, New Zealand’s Race Relations Commissioner between 2002 and 2013, said he was alarmed at signs of an uptick in threats against Muslims when he took up the role soon after the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

De Bres said he repeatedly asked the government and police to create a central system for recording details about crimes motivated by hatred and racism.

He raised the issue with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which in its 2007 review of New Zealand said the lack of records was a concern, and asked the government to collect data on complaints of racially motivated crimes.

“I listed it every year…I wrote at various points to government about it and it was simply said that it wasn’t necessary and it wasn’t a priority,” De Bres said.

In its latest report on New Zealand in 2017, the UN committee repeated its concerns and requests and asked the government to provide the data for its next report as a priority.

When current Justice and Intelligence Services Minister Andrew Little took office in late 2017, the Human Rights Commission said in their incoming briefing the country needed a central system for recording details about crimes motivated by hatred and racism and steps currently taken by police were insufficient.

“Understanding the scale, extent, and location of hate crimes is essential and is a prerequisite to ensuring adequate resources are available to address the issue,” the briefing said.

Little did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment but told local media on Saturday that current hate speech laws were inadequate and he would work with officials to review the legislation, including considering whether a separate hate crime offense should be created.

Police said they took hate crimes seriously and were continually looking to improve the way they worked.

“We are engaged in ongoing conversations with community leaders and representatives about a range of issues, including how police record allegations of hate crime and crimes of prejudice,” said a police spokesperson via email.

The National Party, in power from 2008 to 2017, said while in government, it introduced legislation to protect people from harmful communication online.

“There are hate speech laws in the Human Rights Act, but whether data should be collected is an operational matter for Police,” a spokeswoman said by email.

NO ONE WAS LISTENING

New Zealand has had no previous extremist mass attacks, unlike neighboring Australia, but civil society members say an underbelly of racism has always existed and may have been escalating.

Anjum Rahman from the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand said the group had repeatedly alerted the government over the past five years about the rise of the extreme right and the growing threat Muslim women felt in New Zealand.

“Without the data, without the measurement it’s really hard to push for change…I feel like it wasn’t taken seriously because it wasn’t hard data because we didn’t have it,” she said, adding she felt “a resistance to creating that data.”

One in 10 New Zealand adults have experienced hate speech online according to a 2018 study by internet safety organization Netsafe, with people of Asian descent or who identified as ‘other’ ethnicity most affected.

Since 2002, a law has specified judges should take hostility toward a group of people with a “common characteristic”, such as race or religion, into account when sentencing.

A Reuters review of sentencing records found 22 such cases since 2002, most with a racial motive.

Those included the murder of a Korean student, the hurling of a pipe bomb at a Sikh Temple, and threats to politicians by a non-Muslim posing as an Islamic extremist, which the judge described as a “deliberate attempt to tap into public fear about radicalized Muslims”.

The likely number is far higher, say human rights experts, because accessible records encompass only cases that are appealed or the most severe charges that reach New Zealand’s highest courts, not the tens of thousands of cases dealt with in lower District Courts each year.

One of those was a 2016 case, first reported by the New Zealand Herald, in which a Christchurch man delivered a bloodied pig’s head to Al Noor mosque, which was attacked this month.

He was charged with “offensive behavior” and fined NZ$800 ($543), court records show.

In 2017, lawmakers asked police whether hate crime was increasing but were told it could not be measured because it was not recorded as a specific category, according to Parliamentary records.

The Human Rights Commission said it received 417 complaints relating to race in 2018, up from 350 in 2014. Those included 63 complaints of “racial disharmony”, which includes hate speech, a 26 percent jump from four years earlier.

Lawmaker Golriz Ghahraman, a former human rights lawyer who was born in Iran and came to New Zealand as a child refugee, said she had received death threats and xenophobia including being called a “terrorist” and “Jihadist” online.

Before the Christchurch attacks, most of the public had felt safe, she said.

“Minorities didn’t, but no one was listening to them.”

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Praveen Menon.; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

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People visit a memorial site for victims of Friday's shooting, in front of the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch
FILE PHOTO – People visit a memorial site for victims of Friday’s shooting, in front of the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

March 28, 2019

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Representatives of governments from around the world are expected to attend a national remembrance service in New Zealand on Friday for the 50 victims of a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch.

“This is an event that affected New Zealand deeply. But it was our Muslim New Zealanders who were targeted. So rightly so, that would be reflected in the remembrance service,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will be represented at the service, but the full list of the attendees from 59 countries was withheld for security reasons, as the country has been on high alert since the March 15 attack.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the governor general Peter Cosgrove and opposition leader Bill Shorten will be among foreign leaders attending the service, Ardern said.

Heads of state from Pacific countries, including Fiji’s President Jioji Konkrote will also be in attendance, she added.

The service will be held in Christchurch in Hagley Park, where tens of thousands of New Zealanders have gathered since the attack to mourn the deaths. It will be televised live on state television networks.

Britain’s Prince William will visit New Zealand next month to honour the victims, his office said.

The massacre in New Zealand was carried out by a lone gunman at two mosques. Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with one murder following the attack and is likely to face more charges when he is presented in court on April 5.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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FILE PHOTO - Britain's Prince William speaks during a reception at the British Consulate General in Jerusalem
FILE PHOTO – Britain’s Prince William speaks during a reception at the British Consulate General in Jerusalem, June 27, 2018. Debbie Hill/Pool via Reuters

March 27, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Prince William will visit New Zealand next month to honor the 50 victims of the mass shooting at mosques two weeks ago, his office said on Wednesday.

William, the Duke of Cambridge, will make the trip on behalf of his 92-year-old grandmother Queen Elizabeth, New Zealand’s head of state, following a request from its Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

“The Duke will meet with those affected by the attack and will pay tribute to the extraordinary compassion and solidarity that the people of New Zealand have displayed in recent weeks,” Kensington Palace said in a statement.

William and other senior royals have already spoken of their horror at the March 15 attack on two mosques in Christchurch for which a suspected white supremacist has been charged with murder.

“This senseless attack is an affront to the people of Christchurch and New Zealand, and the broader Muslim community. It is a horrifying assault on a way of life that embodies decency, community, and friendship,” William said.

“We know that from this devastation and deep mourning, the people of New Zealand will unite to show that such evil can never defeat compassion and tolerance.”

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)

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