WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced an immediate ban on the sale of assault rifles and semi-automatics Thursday in a muscular response to the Christchurch terror attack that killed 50 people.
“Today I am announcing that New Zealand will ban all military-style semi-automatic weapons. We will also ban all assault rifles,” Ardern said, while announcing interim measures that will stop a rush of purchases before legislation is enacted.
“The effect of this will mean that no one will be able to buy these weapons without a permit to procure from the police. I can assure people that there is no point in applying for such a permit,” she said.
She added that high capacity magazines and devices similar to bump stocks — which make rifles fire faster — will also be banned.
“Be assured this is just the beginning of the work we’ll be doing,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference on Thursday.
“In short, every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned in this country,” she said.
Ardern said she expects the new law to be in place by April 11 and buy-back schemes will be established for banned weapons.
For the guns that are still out there, Ardern announced a buyback scheme that will cost between Nz$100 million and $200 million (between US$69 million and $139 million), depending on the number of weapons received.
To “the current owners of the weapons we have moved to ban, I acknowledge that many of you will have acted within the law,” Ardern said.
“In recognition of that and to incentivise their return, we will be establishing a buyback scheme.”
Anyone who keeps the guns after an amnesty period will face fines of up to $4,000 and three years’ in jail.
Ardern brushed aside suggestions of opposition to the ban.
“The vast majority of New Zealanders will support this change. I feel incredibly confident of that,” she said.
White supremacist suspect
Ardern’s move came six days after a gunman entered the Al Noor and Linwood mosques and killed 50 people in an indiscriminate shooting spree.
Police confirmed on Thursday all 50 victims of the attack had been identified by coroners, while funerals continued to take place as relatives collect their loved ones’ bodies from authorities.
“I can say that as of a few minutes ago the identification process and to all 50 victims has been completed and all of the next of kin have been advised,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush said at a press conference in Wellington.
“That is a landmark for this process,” he added.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a white supremacist who was living in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, has been charged with murder following the attack on Friday.
He was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.
The scale of the attack has caused global revulsion, including for Tarrant’s use of social media to livestream the carnage in real-time.
In a rambling “manifesto”, he said he was motivated partly by a desire to stoke religious conflict between Islam and the West by targeting “invaders”.
Analysts welcomed the prime minister’s move in response to the massacre, saying despite the nation’s outpouring of grief over the incident, “thoughts and prayers don’t make much difference”.
“What we are seeing at the moment is not political populism, or politicians taking advantage of a terrible situation, it’s actually highlighting political inertia from the past,” Jarrod Gilbert, a senior lecturer on crime and justice at the New Zealand-based University of Canterbury, told Al Jazeera.
Ardern had previously cited Australia’s decision to change its gun laws within 12 days after the country’s 1996 Port Arthur massacre, in which 35 people were killed, as a blueprint for amending New Zealand’s laws, saying “we will do it in less”.
‘Well-considered and overdue’
Previous governments failed to implement recommendations made by Justice Thomas Thorp in his government-backed 1997 review of firearms control in New Zealand.
Thorp’s review culminated in a call for all firearms to be individually registered to their owners, tighter vetting procedures for those seeking to buy weapons and a ban on military style semi-automatics.
“This isn’t knee jerk by any stretch, these measures have been well considered and overdue,” Gilbert said.
“Nobody is saying that New Zealanders can’t have a firearm … New Zealand is a country that requires firearms, but no one needs a military-style semi-automatic weapon,” he added, citing the example of farmers.
“We allow people to drive cars in New Zealand we don’t allow people to drive tanks, that’s the equivalence … The time for these measures isn’t now, it’s actually long passed.”
Following Ardern’s announcement, Police Commissioner Bush said there would be an “amnesty” to allow people to hand in now illegal firearms to police.
“For many people, you will now be in unlawful possession of your firearm,” Bush said in a statement.
New Zealand’s foremost hunting body, Fish and Game NZ, said on Wednesday it would support a ban and buy-back of military-style semi-automatic weapons and restrictions on high-capacity magazines.