Christchurch mosque attacks – Expert Reaction

Fifty people have died in Christchurch following Friday’s shooting at two mosques.

People in central Christchurch have been urged to stay indoors, with all schools, Christchurch Hospital and the University of Canterbury on lockdown. Multiple roads have been closed and police say the “risk environment remains extremely high”.

Police say the alleged gunman, who appeared in court on Saturday, had a valid New Zealand firearms licence but appeared to have modified the weapons used in the attack.

The SMC gathered expert comment on the attacks.

Professor Simon Chapman, Emeritus Professor, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, comments:

“After Australia introduced sweeping gun law reform in 1996, we saw 22 years without a massacre, having seen 13 in the previous 18 years. The gun lobby argued that these were rare events and so it was possible that they were still rare, and nothing could be concluded. We tested this idea mathematically and concluded the probability of this 22-year absence occurring following the pattern in the preceding 18 years was about 1 in 200,000. That’s odds slightly worse than a ticket holder winning first prize in the NSW $5 jackpot lottery: 1 in 180,000.

“Over the 18 years prior to 1996, mass shootings occurred here at a rate of about three every four years. Had they continued at this rate then, under our rare events model, the expected number of mass shooting incidents since 1996 would by March 2018 have been 16.3. John Howard’s historic leadership in implementing our gun law reforms, therefore, seems likely to have averted some 16 mass shootings in this country.”

No conflict of interest declared.

Dr Lyn Barnes, former AUT Senior Lecturer, comments:

“My biggest concern for journalists covering the Christchurch massacre is for those who covered Pike River or the earthquakes and lacked support at the time, as many will be re-experiencing traumatic feelings they may not have dealt with. Also, the novice journalists who are not prepared for some of the unpleasant things they may experience, directly or indirectly through people sharing their grief.

“Hopefully, editors are more alert to symptoms of stress and are assertive about it: that is, tell the journalists to take some time out, rather than let them continue.”

No conflict of interest.

Dr Sarb Johal, clinical psychologist, comments:

Note: this is an excerpt from Dr Johal’s blog post.

“I’ve been asked by a few people about how to talk about the terrible multiple attacks in Christchurch today, especially with children and young people and you have a parental or other caregiving role with them. Should you even be talking about it at all?

“There’s only so much information that’s going to make it any more understandable. Children take their cue from parents or caregivers. They’ll be looking to parents for a signal as to how to react to a situation. If you’re feeling shaky – and I know I am – it’s important to ensure that you get the support you can at a time when it makes sense for you to get it.

“In the immediate short term, it’s important parents help children identify their emotions. By helping to name what they are experiencing, it helps them to verbalise and organise what they are experiencing – which is the first step of being able to process what has happened.

“When kids are feeling fearful or anxious it’s okay to distract them for a while, but it’s also equally valid to acknowledge that, help them to name that and help them to deal with that. Get to know what your child’s need for information is.  Ask them what they would like to know, and give them access to that information too. Tell them enough to be safe, and no more than that. Avoid unnecessary graphic detail.

“And in terms of exposure to imagery and audio descriptions about what happened in the event, understand that repeated exposure can increase the risk of anxiety and or other issues. So, minimising this is a good idea, without burying your head in the sand.”

Dr Johal’s blog is available here.

Dr Stuart Bender, Early Career Research Fellow, Curtin University, Australia, comments:

“Today’s shocking mass-shooting in Christchurch is notable in its use of live-streaming video technology to broadcast horrific ‘first-person’ video of the shooting. This makes the attack a form of ‘performance crime’ where the act of video recording and/or streaming the violence by the perpetrator is a central component of the violence itself, rather than being incidental. The video should not be seen as a disgusting trophy for the perpetrator to re-watch later – the video is part of the violent activity itself.

“The highly disturbing video – which was quickly made unavailable on official social media channels – maintains its traumatic legacy via the repeated publishing of screen shots in other media outlets. This is linked to a recent history of performance crime videos that use live-streaming and social media video services as part of their terrorising tactics. For example, the on-air murder video of a journalist in Virginia in 2015 by Vester Flanagan, the sickening murder video of an elderly man in Ohio uploaded by the perpetrator to Facebook in 2017, and the live-streaming torture of a man with disabilities in 2017 in Chicago.

“The performance crime element of this attack links it to the new era of participatory media terrorism (eg: ISIS) and shows the dark side of live-streaming services. The horrifying imagery has potential for vicarious trauma on viewers, thus extending the impact of the terror far beyond the immediate victims. Therefore this kind of action is linked to other issues around mass-shootings such as the contagion effect, publicising the name of the perpetrator etc.”

Professor Alexander Gillespie, Professor of International Law, University of Waikato, comments:

“If you are looking at the actual attack, terror attacks [targets] are chosen by crowd density and response time. This is something that is clearly very premeditated.

“The fact that it’s possibly more than one shooter suggests it’s a terror cell – a coordinated group – and if it’s a cell we need to ask why weren’t they detected, because that’s why we have security services and it may be that those services have been looking under the wrong rocks.

“New Zealand’s terrorist factor right now is low, which means compared to other countries we are one of the safest countries in the world, so it is unlikely the authorities saw this coming.

“From what I can see on the internet this looks like an act of terrorism because he has left a manifesto and he appears to have targeted Muslims.

“If the number is more than 13 dead it is going to be New Zealand’s biggest mass shooting. Until now it was Aramoana. A mass killing is anything above four [fatalities].

“Our services and our authorities are very good. They know what to do, but this is a multi-faceted problem.

“We need to make sure no-one shares what is online because the risk of copycats is very high, as is the risk of striking out.

“The livestream adds to the notoriety of the killer. It shows you that terror threats – whether they are jihadi or left or right wing – they are international. People are speaking to a global audience, not just the audience in Christchurch. They are trying to speak everywhere.

“The killers are often willing to be killed themselves because it means they will be famous. The problem is now the media has gotten hold of the video and the manifesto.

“If the media shows pictures that empower the shooter there is a risk of copycats, even down to naming the shooter. You need a media protocol to ensure no one is named and there is no notoriety.

“This is the time for empathy for all of Muslims in New Zealand. Today we are all part of their community.

“In a country like New Zealand you don’t have many terror incidents. Our death toll is very low from homicide. What has happened is an anomaly; it’s not what you would expect in this country, which is why it’s going to be so bad and hard to deal with.

“We need to wait to see what other information is out there. We need to have faith in the authorities, right now it is about empathy for New Zealanders.”

No conflict of interest.