A comprehensive nationwide ban on most semi-automatic weapons came into force in New Zealand on Saturday when a month-long arms buyback and amnesty program ended amid debates about its success.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a temporary ban just a few days after a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch in March, killing 51 people and broadcasting it live on Facebook. Weeks later, all but one of Parliament's 120 legislators voted to make the ban permanent. It prohibits semi-automatic weapons and military-style assault rifles, as well as some weapon parts. Violators face five years in prison.
With a buyback that began in July, weapon owners should be able to sell their weapons without penalty before the ban comes into force. In a statement on Friday, police minister Stuart Nash said that the buyback had collected more than 56,000 banned firearms from around 32,000 people, a number that met the authorities' expectations.
However, the police did not know exactly how many weapons there were in the country, which made it difficult to accurately measure the success of the buyback. Mr. Nash requested a national register so that the police could find firearms. According to recent police estimates, the total number of firearms in the country was around 1.2 million.
The now banned weapons were collected during public meetings, by the police in clubs and shooting ranges and by arms dealers who worked on behalf of the authorities. In addition to weapons, around 188,000 prohibited parts such as high-performance magazines were sold, according to Nash.
Authorities paid nearly $ 100 million in New Zealand compensation (approximately $ 66 million in US dollars), but some gun owners say the prices offered were too low.
The country's largest arms owner group, the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners, described the buyback as a "failure" and repeated its criticism of the new arms legislation at a press conference this week, calling it "knee". Jerk legislation. “
In a television interview earlier this week, Nicole McKee said the group believed that many more of the prohibited weapons had not been released. She accused "changes in the 11th hour" of the rules and insufficient public information about them.
On the same television show, Mr. Nash stated that he believed that the majority of the prohibited weapons had been surrendered. A widespread estimate by the accounting firm KPMG, which had been calculated on behalf of the government, had the number of now illegal weapons ranging from 56,000 to 170,000. But Mr. Nash said he didn't think the number was as high as 170,000.
"You would have had to live under a rock if you had been a gun owner in order not to understand what the government was doing," he said.
The buyback was also affected by a data breach earlier this month, according to local news reports. SAP, a German software company, apologized after the names, addresses and weapons of the gun owners were disclosed to the gun dealers. The system was temporarily taken offline while the problem was resolved. Officials stressed that the data was never visible to the general public.
As of Saturday, people who had banned weapons could be prosecuted and lose their weapons license. Gun owners can still voluntarily hand in firearms, with the police remaining free to choose whether to prosecute them on a case-by-case basis.
Ms. Ardern had pointed to Australia's success in implementing arms control measures after a mass shooting in 1996. The country implemented strict new laws and carried out a arms buy-back in which more than 20 percent of the firearms were removed from circulation. Since then, rates of gun violence and suicide have dropped.
In July, Ms. Ardern announced a second wave of weapon control measures, including a mandatory weapon register and a ban on the purchase of weapons by foreign visitors. She argued that the proposed restrictions prevented the mosque attacks.
"He should have passed a good character test and the registry would have alerted the police to the type of weapon purchases the terrorist was making," she said at the time.
The Gun Control NZ group supports the creation of a register on the grounds that the laws passed at the beginning of this year are a good first step, but additional measures are required.
"The fact that semi-automatic weapons are prohibited and has been repurchased is a success," Hera Cook, a group member and public health researcher, wrote in The Guardian Thursday.