New Zealand has often been considered a safe country, and has a relatively low level of homicide. This is the first mass shooting since the Raurimu massacre, in 1997. In 2019, New Zealand was ranked by the Global Peace Index as the second-safest country in the world, behind Iceland. Police statistics on homicides between 2007 and 2016 show an average of 40 to 50 murders per year in New Zealand, equating to 10 to 12 murders per million population per year. Only around 1 in 10 homicides in New Zealand involve a firearm.
Prior to the mosque shootings, the deadliest act of armed violence against unarmed victims in New Zealand since the New Zealand Wars was the shooting and killing of 48 rioting prisoners by guards at the Featherston prisoner of war camp in 1943. The deadliest public mass shooting was the 1990 Aramoana massacre, in which 13 people died.
Islamophobia has increased worldwide, especially following the September 11 attacks and the rise of ISIS. This has led to the passing of anti-Muslim policies in many countries and fueled an anti-immigration agenda for white supremacist populations within Western cultures. In New Zealand spying legislation was brought in that some saw as targeting the Muslim community. Experts have suggested that far right extremism has been growing in New Zealand, a country rarely associated with the extreme right. Christchurch itself has been labelled a "hot bed for white supremacists", a claim rejected by Christchurch MP Gerry Brownlee. Australia, where the alleged gunman was from, has also seen a recent increase in xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia.
Islam is practised by over 46,000 New Zealanders (1.2 percent of the population), including over 3,000 people in Christchurch and the wider Canterbury region. The first Muslims in Christchurch arrived in 1874. The Al Noor Mosque opened in 1985, and was the first in the South Island. The Linwood Islamic Centre opened in early 2018.