Christchurch mosque shootings: New Zealand to ban military style weapons

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Media captionNew Zealand’s PM said she hoped the ban would be in place by 11 April

New Zealand will ban all types of semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles following the Christchurch attacks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said.

The country’s gun laws have been in the spotlight since 50 people were killed at two mosques last Friday.

Ms Ardern said she expected new legislation to be in place by 11 April, saying: “Our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too.”

All of the dead have now been formally identified, police have confirmed.

One man has been charged with one murder. Australian Brenton Tarrant, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, is expected to face further charges.

What will change and how soon?

“Six days after this attack, we are announcing a ban on all military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles in New Zealand,” Ms Ardern said.

“Related parts used to convert these guns into MSSAs are also being banned, along with all high-capacity magazines.”

She said an amnesty and a buy-back scheme would be imposed so the owners of affected weapons could hand them in.

  • How mass shootings have changed gun laws
  • How the attacks unfolded

Ms Ardern said the buy-back could cost “anywhere between $100m ($69m; £52m) and $200m. But that is the price that we must pay to ensure the safety of our communities”.

The prime minister has said the killings were a terrorist attack.

The lone gunman, armed with semi-automatic rifles including an AR-15, is believed to have modified his weapons with high-capacity magazines.

The prime minister said measures were already in place to prevent a rush of gun-buying before the law comes in, including a range of semi-automatic weapons being reclassified, making them harder to buy.

“I can assure people, that there is no point in applying for such a permit,” she said.

What did the PM tell gun owners?

Ms Ardern said she knew many gun owners had “acted within the law”.

“I strongly believe that the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest, and will take these changes in their stride,” she said.

As with Australia’s gun reforms in 1996 exemptions will be made for farmers legitimately needing weapons for pest control and animal welfare.

Police minister Stuart Nash, also at the announcement, said it was “a privilege and not a right to own a firearm in New Zealand”.

He encouraged gun owners with weapons affected by the ban to phone police to arrange surrendering them.

Victims of the Christchurch shootings

How will the law be changed?

Ms Ardern said the legislation would be introduced when parliament sits in the first week of April.

There would be a “short, sharp select committee process” for feedback on technical aspects of the law, she said, and changes to the Arms Act should be passed within the next session.

Once the amnesty period ends, anyone in possession of a banned weapon would face a fine of up to NZ$4,000 and three years in jail.

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern

Graham Eva

Our actions, on behalf of all New Zealanders, are directed at making sure this never happens again.

Analysis: An overwhelming drive for change

By Phil Mercer in Christchurch

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New Zealand has tried – and failed – to reform its gun laws several times in the past two decades, but the momentum for change is now overwhelming. Owners will be forced to surrender proscribed firearms and will be compensated, but those who resist could be prosecuted.

A major hurdle for the authorities is that no-one knows how many assault rifles and military-style semi-automatic weapons are out there. New Zealand’s Police Association has said there also needs to be a register of all guns and their owners.

That could happen in the next round of amendments promised by the prime minister, which will focus on licensing and registration. She has broad public support following the atrocities in Christchurch.

Earlier, MPs in the capital, Wellington, were handed a petition with more than 65,000 signatures demanding tougher laws. Some gun owners aren’t happy, insisting that vetting procedures were already strict enough. They are, though, swimming against the tide.

What has the reaction been?

Survivor Kawthar Abulaban, 54, who was at the Al Noor mosque, welcomed the move: “It’s a good thing, why would we need to have guns like this in our houses?” she told AFP.

The move drew strong responses in the US, where campaigners against gun violence frequently clash with the pro-gun lobby.

Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders called for America to follow New Zealand’s lead, tweeting: “This is what real action to stop gun violence looks like.”

In response, National Rifle Association (NRA) spokeswoman Dana Loesch cited the Second Amendment of the US constitution, which gives Americans the right to carry guns.

“The US isn’t NZ,” she tweeted. “While they do not have an inalienable right to bear arms and to self defense, we do.”

What are New Zealand’s current gun laws?

  • Currently, the minimum legal age to own a gun in New Zealand is 16, or 18 for military-style semi-automatic weapons.
  • All gun owners must have a licence, but most individual weapons don’t have to be registered – one of the few countries where this is the case.
  • Applicants for a firearm licence must pass a background check of criminal and medical records. Once a licence has been issued, they can buy as many weapons as they want.
  • A special application must be made to police to own military-style semi-automatic weapons, pistols, or other restricted firearms.
  • As of June 2018, there were 246,952 active firearms licences in New Zealand, including dealers and individual owners.

BBC Reality Check: What are New Zealand’s gun laws?

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Bullet-riddled NZ mosque to reopen for Friday prayers; more victims buriedNew Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to journalists during a press conference at the Justice Precinct in Christchurch on March 20, 2019.