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World

Burials Begin For Victims Of Christchurch Mosque Shootings

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Military-style semiautomatic firearms will be banned in New Zealand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: We will also ban all assault rifles. We will ban all high-capacity magazines.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

That is New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this morning announcing the ban, a ban that also includes any other part that enables a gun to be modified into the kind of weapon that killed 50 at two mosques in Christchurch last week.

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ARDERN: In short, every semiautomatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned in this country.

KELLY: In a few minutes, we'll hear why changes to American gun laws are much more complicated.

CHANG: But first, NPR's Rob Schmitz reports that as New Zealand's government was announcing the ban, the burials of the victims began.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Reciting in Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Reciting in Arabic).

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: He was 14. His classmates say he was good-natured, played goalie for the high school soccer team and had dreams of playing internationally. This morning, he was washed, wrapped in white cloth and buried.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Reciting in Arabic).

SCHMITZ: Sayyad Milne was shot and killed while he prayed with his family and friends last Friday. Ahmed Shalaldeh came to his burial this morning on a bluff overlooking Christchurch to pay his respects.

AHMED SHALALDEH: He's a very, very, very good kid, yeah. He was always active, always smiling.

SCHMITZ: Shalaldeh owns a breakfast shop, and 14-year-old Sayyad was his regular customer.

SHALALDEH: He liked to have the strawberry Nutella waffle. And he always came, like - just laughing, just laughing. I can see his smile just from the gate. When I heard about him, I was, like - it was so sad, so hard. My heart was broken.

SCHMITZ: Shalaldeh is here with his 2-year-old daughter in a stroller. He's lucky to be alive. Like Sayyad, he and his pregnant wife were praying at the mosque Friday afternoon, too, when a gunman entered and began shooting everyone. Shalaldeh escaped out a door, but his wife Lana was still inside in the women's prayer room. He hid outside, waiting - listening into gunshots and screams, wondering if his wife and unborn baby were going to make it. The shots stopped, and he ran inside.

SHALALDEH: And then I just, straightaway, went to the ladies prayer rooms. And I was, like, shouting - Lana, Lana, Lana. And then she saw me. She said - I'm alive; I'm alive. And she was crying, and I was crying at the same time.

SCHMITZ: The couple ran out of the mosque and sped to the local Muslim school where their 2-year-old daughter was at day care. They were scared that the attacker would go there next. After they retrieved their daughter and had returned home, Shalaldeh felt guilt seeping in.

SHALALDEH: After, like, 2, 3 hours, I was blaming myself - why I didn't tell any of the people who was, like, were there because I think if I took just maybe 10 seconds to think about it, there were lots of people still alive. And I think if I helped them - brought them with the car and take them to the hospital, I could have saved lots of lives.

SCHMITZ: He says he can't stop thinking about what he could have done differently. Shalaldeh is not alone.

ARDERN: I guess if I was to say New Zealand was a blueprint for anything, in some ways, it's a blueprint what not to do.

SCHMITZ: Since Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has worked tirelessly to coordinate a government effort to overhaul New Zealand's gun laws. In a span of five days, her coalition government has formulated a ban on all the semiautomatic weapons that were used in the Christchurch attack. According to the new law, New Zealanders are required to register online to set up a time to hand in their guns to police. In return, the government will pay them what the guns are worth.

At the Christchurch Botanical Gardens (ph), where a football field-long row of flowers, candles and letters have been left by community members to remember the victims, Ingrid and Harry Sweeney agree with their prime minister's gun ban.

INGRID SWEENEY: But what I've seen here right away in - no place for them. I don't even know what they use them for.

HARRY SWEENEY: It's for wars, really. That's what they're made for. That's where they should be.

SCHMITZ: Where they should not be, says Mr. Sweeney, are in anyone's hands in New Zealand. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Christchurch. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.