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700 guns voluntarily surrendered in New Zealand before ‘assault weapon’ ban takes effect

AR-15 rifle. (Michael Guio/Flickr)
July 08, 2019

Approximately 700 of New Zealand’s guns were voluntarily turned in after the nation announced a ban on semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines.

The guns were surrendered voluntarily before buybacks are slated to begin on July 13, and will run through the end of 2019. Officials are unclear just how many guns are affected by the ban and expected to be turned in, The Washington Post reported.

Stuart Nash, New Zealand’s minister of police, announced that 200 collection events will be organized over the upcoming 90 days, according to a New Zealand government press release.

Official data has not yet been released and is complex to even obtain due to the fact that many of the banned weapons are not on the national registry. Additionally, not all of the guns in the total nationwide estimates are subject to the ban and buybacks.

“Estimates of the numbers of newly banned weapons vary widely,” The Washington Post reported.

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Officials estimate there are as many as 1.5 million guns in New Zealand among 250,000 licensed gun owners. Of that number, Philip Alpers, a gun policy expert with Sydney University, estimates that approximately 500,000 are semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and “only a small proportion of those” are capable of holding high capacity magazines and falling under the ban, the Associated Press reported in March.

“So that’s the number that everyone is trying to guess,” Alpers noted.

Gun safety expert Joe Green, who is also a former arms control manager for the New Zealand Police, told The Washington Post that the lack of data has officials “operating a little bit in the dark.”

“It’s really an open checkbook,” he said, “because they don’t know how many they are buying back.”

The buyback program was implemented in April when the New Zealand parliament approved a ban on semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines.

The New Zealand government has sent notices to owners of all registered firearms informing them of their obligation to turn in their firearm. An amnesty period lasts until Dec. 20, and after that, gun owners will face consequences for being in possession of banned firearms.

The move was prompted by the March 15 terror attacks on mosques in the New Zealand capital of Christchurch that killed 51 people. Less than a week later, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed, “Every semi-automatic weapon used in the terror attack on Friday will be banned.”

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She added, “On 15 March 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.”

Those in favor of the ban say that the amount of money offered for gun buybacks isn’t enough and they fear a rise in black market sales.

The current buyback value is 95 percent of the projected base price for new or newer guns. That amount decreases for weapons that are in lesser quality condition.

Opposition from pro-gun groups and threats of lawsuits has hindered the efforts, contributing to the low voluntary turnout. It’s not yet clear how this might affect buybacks once they are mandatory.

Nicole McKee, secretary of the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners, said her group will “take legal action, likely to be by way of a class action,” the Washington Post reported.

Others are threatening to sue over “property confiscation.”

Philippa Yasbek, co-founder of Gun Control NZ said the reason for the low turnout is likely that gun owners were “waiting to see the levels of compensation on offer” before they participated.

“Despite any potential difficulties with the buyback, it is really important that we remove semiautomatic weapons from the community. We also know that this change will be effective. In Australia, there were 13 fatal mass shootings from 1979 to 1996. After the gun law reforms in 1996, there were none for more than 20 years,” Yasbek argued.

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This article has been updated to provide more information and clarify the number of guns voluntarily surrendered before the buybacks, not during the buybacks.