New Zealand will ban military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles under tough new gun laws following the killing of 50 people in its worst mass shooting, Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday.
In the immediate aftermath of last Friday’s shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, Ardern labelled the attack as “terrorism” and said New Zealand’s gun laws would change.
“On March 15, our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too. We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place. All semi-automatic weapons used during the terrorist attack on Friday, March 15, will be banned,” she said.
Ardern said she expected the new laws to be in place by April 11 and a buy-back scheme costing up to $138 million would be established for banned weapons. All military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles would be banned, along with parts used to convert weapons into MSSAs and all high-capacity magazines.
Under existing gun laws, a standard A-category gun license allows semi-automatics limited to seven shots. Live-streamed video of a gunman in one of the mosques showed a semi-automatic weapon modified with a large magazine.
Australia banned semi-automatic weapons and launched a gun buy-back after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, in which 35 people were killed. Ardern said similar to Australia, the law would allow for strictly enforced exemptions for farmers for pest control and animal welfare.
“I strongly believe the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest and will take these changes in their stride,” she added.
New Zealand, a country of fewer than five million people, has an estimated 1.2-1.5 million firearms, about 13,500 of them MSSA-type weapons. Most farmers own guns while hunting of deer, pigs and goats is popular. Gun clubs and shooting ranges dot the country.
That has created a powerful lobby that has thwarted previous attempts to tighten gun laws. Federated Farmers, which represent thousands of farmers, said it supported the new laws. “This will not be popular among some of our members but, we believe this is the only practicable solution,’’ a group spokesman, Miles Anderson, said in a statement.
The main opposition national party, which draws strong support in rural areas, said it also supported the ban. The changes exclude two general classes of firearms commonly used for hunting, pest control and stock management on farms.