Nine months after the shooting deaths of dozens of worshippers at two Christchurch mosques, New Zealand’s ban on high-powered firearms has come fully into effect.
With the end of a period of amnesty and gun buybacks, most semi-automatic weapons, as well as large-capacity magazines and some pump-action shotguns, are illegal to possess in the country.
Bills to tighten the rules around firearms were overwhelmingly supported in the New Zealand legislature in the wake of the March 15 attack, the deadliest shooting in the country’s history.
Fifty-one people were killed by a gunman who broadcast the attack on social media. He is believed to be the author of a hate-filled manifesto published online.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed within days to make the type of high-powered weapons used in the slaughter of Muslims in Christchurch illegal to possess.
“Our gun laws will change,” she said.
Her response was lauded by gun control advocates — particularly in the U.S., where decades of deadly massacres have failed to spur significant reform.
According to the group Gun Violence Archive, there have been 400 mass shootings in the U.S. this year.
The New Zealand government set a deadline of Dec. 20 to remove prohibited guns from circulation.
New Zealand Minister of Police Stuart Nash said that more than 56,000 illegal weapons have been eliminated through government buybacks, amnesty or modifications to make them lawful.
“The buyback and amnesty for prohibited and unlawful firearms ends tonight,” Nash said in a statement Friday.
“There has been a last-minute surge in the past fortnight as people have come forward to do the right thing.”
A total of nearly NZ$100 million has been distributed to gun owners in exchange for the weapons, he said.
Some, however, say the amnesty has been a failure.
One group, the Council of Licenced Firearms Owners, estimated there were 170,000 semi-automatic weapons in circulation before the amnesty was announced — a far cry from the number collected.
“Despite our best efforts to encourage compliance, we know owners have been so disappointed by the settings of the ban and its poor implementation that many can’t bring themselves to comply,” spokeswoman Nicole McKee told reporters.
Mark Mitchell, spokesperson for the opposition National Party, said the government “made a mistake” in focusing on law-abiding gun owners “when they should’ve targeted the gangs who peddle misery in communities across New Zealand.”
Prior to the attack, New Zealand citizens could possess handguns, military-style semi-automatic weapons or fully-automatic firearms with a permit to purchase and a relevant firearm licence.
Moves to restrict access to high-powered guns were not without their opponents.
Nearly 16,000 people signed a petition requesting in-depth public consultation to ensure the reforms didn’t “unduly punish law-abiding firearms owners while maintaining assurances of public safety.”
The penalty for possession of a prohibited weapon includes up to five years jail.
— With files from Reuters and The Associated Press