The Australian man accused of shooting dead 50 people at two New Zealand mosques doesn’t appear mentally unstable and plans to represent himself, his court-appointed lawyer said on Monday.
The announcement raises concerns that white supremacist Brenton Tarrant could espouse his extreme views in court as he conducts his own defence.
Tarrant was charged with one count of murder and appeared at Christchurch District Court on Saturday after the rampage during Friday prayers. He will face more charges when he appears in court again on April 5.
Duty lawyer Richard Peters, who represented him during the preliminary court hearing, said the 28-year-old “indicated he does not want a lawyer”.
“He wants to be self-represented in this case,” Peters told AFP news agency.
At his first court appearance, Tarrant didn’t speak but appeared unrepentant, smirking at journalists and flashing an upside down “okay” sign – a symbol associated with white power groups around the world.
“She saved everyone’s life but unfortunately she sacrificed her life.”
Farhana Akhter tells Al Jazeera about her aunt’s courage during the mass shootings on two mosques in Christchurch on Friday. pic.twitter.com/yz9WWVgj5G
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) March 17, 2019
Peters told the New Zealand Herald newspaper Tarrant appeared lucid and mentally sound, other than the extreme views he held.
“The way he presented was rational and someone who was not suffering any mental disability. That’s how he appeared. He seemed to understand what was going on,” he said.
Tightening New Zealand’s gun laws was at the top of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s agenda as she met with her cabinet on Monday for the first time since the massacre.
“What the public rightly are asking right now is why is it and how is it that you are currently able to buy military style semi-automatic weapons in New Zealand, and that’s the right question to ask,” Ardern told TVNZ.
“There are ways we can bring in affective regulation of firearms that actually target those we need to target and that is our focus.”
Ardern later told a press conference the cabinet was unanimous in plans to change gun laws, but said details would be announced at a later date.
New Zealand, a country of only 5 million people, has an estimated 1.5 million firearms. The minimum age for a gun license is 16, and 18 to own a semi-automatic weapon.
A Christchurch gun shop on Monday acknowledged selling guns online to the 28-year-old white supremacist.
At a news conference, Gun City owner David Tipple said the store sold four guns and ammunition to Tarrant through a “police-verified online mail order process”.
The store “detected nothing extraordinary” about the purchaser, he said. None of the guns sold to Tarrant were military style semi-automatic weapons.
Tipple said he felt no responsibility for the tragedy and refused to say whether he believed gun ownership laws should change in New Zealand.
Ardern has said the attacker used five guns, two of them semi-automatic, which were purchased with an ordinary gun license and modified.
It was not clear if any of the firearms Tarrant purchased from Gun City were used in Friday’s mass shootings.
“This man wrote in his manifesto that the purpose of using a firearm was to divide us,” Tipple said. “If we allow him to make changes in our ideology, in our behaviour, he’s won.”
Tipple said his company had operated legally for 40 years and New Zealand was a country of laws and “not a country of emotional responses”.