Explained: Why New Zealand’s govt spent the last 9 months buying up people’s guns

Unlike in the US, where gun ownership is a fundamental right, having a weapon in New Zealand is a privilege and not a right.

New Zealand’s scheme for gun buybacks and amnesty for the possession of firearms, parts, and magazines, which was announced in March 2019, ended on Friday (December 20).

Why were the gun buyback and amnesty scheme started?

Fifty-one people were killed and 49 were wounded after a terrorist attacked on two mosques in Christchurch after Friday afternoon prayers on March 15 this year. The Al Noor Mosque in the suburb of Riccarton was attacked at 1.40 pm, and the Linwood Islamic Centre at about 1.55 pm.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called it “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”. The terrorist, an Australian white supremacist named Brenton Tarrant, live-streamed the Al Noor massacre to Facebook, using a head-mounted camera.

Five weapons were recovered: two semi-automatic weapons, including an AR-15 style rifle, two shotguns, and a lever-action firearm.

Thereafter, Prime Minister Ardern’s government banned semi-automatic weapons and launched the gun buyback and amnesty scheme.

What was the intention behind starting these schemes?

Gun buyback programmes are undertaken to reduce gun ownership. Essentially, it means selling your firearms to the government, provided they are licensed.

The amnesty scheme guarantees that the owner of an already prohibited firearm would not be prosecuted if he hands it in.

Other countries that have initiated such gun buyback programmes in the past include Australia and Argentina. The Australian gun buyback scheme was undertaken after over 13 incidents of mass shootings happened between 1981 and 1996.

How did the scheme work?

Unlike in the US, where gun ownership is a fundamental right, having a weapon in New Zealand is a privilege, and not a right.

Since April, New Zealand has banned most semi-automatic weapons including some rimfire rifles, semi-automatic shotguns, and pump action shotguns.

“If you, or someone you know, has an unwanted firearm or part, even if it’s not prohibited, you can hand it in under amnesty at a collection event. Other options include bulk-picks if you have more than 10 items, or hand-ins at police stations,” the New Zealand police said on its website.

Additionally, individuals who owned any newly prohibited firearms and parts could receive compensation for them, provided they had a valid firearms licence for it.

How many firearms were part of the scheme?

New Zealand, which has a population of 5 million (50 lakh) people, has nearly 2,50,000 licenced gun owners. Overall, the country is estimated to have about 1.5 million guns.

According to data released by the New Zealand police, up to December 12, over 47,000 firearms and 1,71,196 firearm parts had been collected through buybacks and amnesty.

Of all the buyback firearms, 59 per cent were new, 39.2 per cent were used, and the remaining 1.8 per cent were in poor condition. Over 63.8 per cent of the buyback firearms were centrefire semi-automatics costing less than NZ $10,000, 21 per cent of them cost less than NZ $2,000, and the remaining were shotguns and rifles costing between NZ $2,000 and NZ $5,000.

On Friday, New Zealand’s Minister of Police, Stuart Nash said, “More than 56,346 prohibited and unlawful firearms have so far been removed from circulation, through the buyback and amnesty, as well as through modifications by approved gunsmiths at government expense.”

He said that about 31,600 people had taken part in the scheme, and $100 million had been paid out as compensation.

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