Terror in Chch
The Government has announced a ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles in the wake of New Zealand’s worst mass shooting and terrorist attack in recent history.
The swift policy move, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has foreshadowed since Saturday, will include a buy-back scheme, similar to the one adopted by Australia in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre.
“On 15 March our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too,” Ardern said.
Related parts used to convert guns like those used in the shooting into MSSAs will also be banned, along with all high-capacity magazines.
An amnesty will be put in place for weapons to be handed in, and officials are developing a buyback scheme, currently expected to cost between $100 million and $200m.
Legislation needed to give effect to the ban will be introduced to Parliament in the first week of April, and passed under urgency, with the support of coalition partners and the National Party.
There will be a limited select committee process, and the new laws are expected to be passed by April 11.
The bill will include narrow exemptions for legitimate use, including professional pest control. Police and the Defence Force will also have exemptions.
The Prime Minister and Police Minister Stuart Nash said they acknowledged some guns served legitimate purposes – there will be exemptions for 0.22 calibre rifles and shotguns commonly used for duck hunting.
An immediate Order in Council was put in place at 3pm on Thursday, to stop the sale of these types of weapons and magazines to those with a Category A licence to prevent the stockpiling of weapons. All retailers had been made aware of the order, the Government said.
It said this interim measure would ensure all of the weapons being banned under amendments to the Arms Act were now categorised as weapons requiring an E endorsement on a firearms licence.
“The effect of this is that it will prevent the sale of MSSAs and assault rifles to people with A category gun licences. The Order in Council is a transitional measure until the wider ban takes effect,” Nash said.
The message to those who may try to quickly obtain a Category E licence from police before the law changes passed was: don’t bother wasting your time.
National leader Simon Bridges said he welcomed the proposed changes.
“National has been clear since this devastating attack that we support changes to our regime and that we will work constructively with the Government,” Bridges said.
“We agree that the public doesn’t need access to military style semi-automatic weapons. National supports them being banned along with assault rifles.
“We also support the Government’s proposals to limit the access to other high powered semi-automatic weapons and ammunition.”
Thursday’s announcement did not include the long mooted inclusion of a firearms register. Ardern said there would be a second tranche of proposed changes, which would be taken to Cabinet on Monday. These would include looking at possible changes to licensing more generally, as well as the possession and sale of ammunition.
Swift reaction by Government
Less than 24 hours after the attack, Ardern stood in the Beehive promising changes to gun laws.
“While work is being done as to the chain of events that led to both the holding of this gun licence and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now: our gun laws will change,” she said at the time.
The policy announcement comes after the death of 50 people at the hands of a 28-year-old Australian citizen in Christchurch last Friday.
The man, who had held a New Zealand Category A licence since November 2017, had acquired five weapons legally, including two semi-automatic weapons.
The main weapons used in the shooting was an illegally modified semi-automatic weapon.
A gun expert told Newsroom the shotgun first used by the gunman at the Deans Ave mosque appeared to be a Mossberg 930 semi-automatic. This gun has a magazine capacity of seven rounds, and once he ran out of ammunition in the shotgun, he appeared to dump it and switch to an AR15.
The AR15 is a semi-automatic sporting rifle, and among the most popular firearms currently sold in New Zealand.
While the main body of the guns he had could be legally acquired with a basic Category A licence, the AR15 had been fitted illegally with large magazines.
Under the 1992 Arms Act, a semi-automatic AR15 sporting rifle can only have a magazine capacity of 7 rounds. The gunman had magazines holding 30 rounds, 40 rounds, and 60 rounds.
Gun City owner David Tipple told media his store had legally sold four Category A guns to the shooter, but not the AR15 used to kill most of the victims.
The ability to modify firearms has long been a weak point in New Zealand’s firearm laws, allowing licence-holders to legally hold weapons akin to those used in the military on low-level gun licenses.
String of struggles with law changes
Successive governments have long looked at tightening gun laws, with calls from the Police Association to set up a firearms register and ban semi-automatic weapons for all civilians.
However, there has been no significant changes to gun laws since the Aramoana massacre more than 26 years ago.
A year-long Parliamentary inquiry into the illegal possession of firearms put forward 20 recommendations in 2017, however, only seven were accepted. Along with those rejected were calls for tighter restrictions on ammunition sales and possession, a firearms register, and new categorisation for semi-automatic weapons.
In recent days the National Party – particularly former police minister Paula Bennett – have come under scrutiny but say there was no point looking back and the world has changed.
Labour has also had the opportunity to change gun laws in the past, and hasn’t. And New Zealand First has long been a friend of firearms owners, with a strong rural base.
“After 1pm on the 15th of March our world changed forever, and so will our laws,” Peters said on Monday, after throwing his support behind Ardern’s promise of tougher gun laws.
Ardern and Peters said Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens were united on plans to change gun laws.
And the National Party has said it will work constructively with the Government on changes.
On Thursday – ahead of the Government’s announcement – James Shaw, Chris Bishop and Grant Robertson accept three petitions calling for tighter gun laws. They had gathered about 70,000 signatures in the five days since the attack.
Firearms community reacts to attack
Following Ardern’s promise on Saturday, there were starkly different reactions from different factions of the firearms community.
New Zealand has a strong recreational shooting and hunting community, with 250,000 licenced firearms users in New Zealand.
Among those is a small, but vocal gun lobby, which opposes any crackdown on guns as an attack on law-abiding firearms owners.
Police said they were not able to verify increased sales in semi-automatic weapons following the attack (and ahead of a suspected semi-automatic ban) but gun retailers and distributors told Newsroom there had been a spate of “panic buying”.
On the Facebook group Kiwi Gun Blog, firearms owners and sellers said there was heightened buying of semi-automatic weapons, ammunition and magazines around the country on Saturday.
Meanwhile, an Auckland gun shop owner recorded a significant increase in sales of semi-automatic weapons, and he said the phone ran off the hook with enquiries about semi-automatics, including the prices and how much stock the store had left.
Meanwhile, others were surrendering their semi-automatic weapons to police.
Farmer and former Green Party candidate John Hart voluntarily handed in his weapon.
“Until today I was one of the New Zealanders who owned a semi-automatic rifle. On the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse. We don’t need these in our country,” he tweeted on Monday.
Others had followed suit, with Ardern, Nash and Police Commissioner Mike Bush encouraging the move.
More than three dozen firearms have been surrendered, so far.
1983: Arms Act established
1984-5: Financial deregulation and removal of tariffs
1990: Aramoana shootings
1992: Arms Act
1997: Thorp Report: Comprehensive review of the Arms Act. The review raised concerns over MSSA weapons
2001: Internet penetration reaches 50 percent of New Zealanders
2005: Arms Amendment Bill No.3 introduced
2010: Arms Amendment Bill No.4 gets policy approval. Drafting instructions provided in 2011 and 2013
2012: Government discharges No.3 Bill
2012: Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Act passes. Restricts imports, and bans pistol-type grips on semi-automatic guns
2013: First 3D printed firearm fired
2013-2016: No progress on drafting Arms Amendment Bill No.4
2016: Law and Order Committee begins Inquiry into Illegal Firearm Possession
2016: 66 percent of New Zealanders shop online
2017: Law and Order Committee report recommends 17 legislative amendments
March 15, 2019: 50 people killed in Christchurch terrorist attack
March 16, 2019: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promises gun laws will change. Gathers Cabinet on Monday, March 18 to get an “in-principle decision” on firearms law reform.
March 21, 2019: Government announces planned changes to gun laws.