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Wellington: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at a press conference with Police Minister Stuart Nash at Parliament House on Thursday.—AFP
Wellington: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at a press conference with Police Minister Stuart Nash at Parliament House on Thursday.—AFP

CHRISTCHURCH: The government of New Zealand announced a ban on “military-style” semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines on Thursday, just a week after such weapons were used in attacks on two mosques in the city of Christchurch that killed 50 people.

An immediate sales ban went into effect to prevent stockpiling and new laws would be rushed through parliament that would impose a complete ban on the weapons, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“Every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned,” Ardern said.

The prohibition includes semi-automatic guns or shotguns that can be used with a detachable magazine that holds more than five rounds. It also applies to accessories used to convert guns into what the government called “military-style” weapons.

The ban does not apply to guns commonly used by farmers and hunters, including semi-automatic .22 caliber or smaller guns that hold up to 10 rounds, or semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns with non-detachable magazines that hold up to five rounds.

Ardern’s party controls a majority in parliament, so passage of the legislation is expected. New Zealand does not have a constitutional right to bear arms. The announcement brought immediate comparisons to the United States, where contentious debate over gun control remains unresolved after frequent mass killings.

Firearms experts said the ban in New Zealand has wide support.

Polly Collins of Christchurch was thrilled to hear of Ardern’s announcement as she visited a memorial to the victims.

“The prime minister is amazing,” she said. “It’s not like in America, where they have all these things and then they go ‘Oh yeah, we’ll deal with the gun laws,’ and nothing’s done.” One of New Zealand’s largest gun retailers, Hunting & Fishing New Zealand, said it supports “any government measure to permanently ban such weapons.” “While we have sold them in the past to a small number of customers, last week’s events have forced a reconsideration that has led us to believe such weapons of war have no place in our business or our country,” chief executive Darren Jacobs said in a statement.

He said the company will no longer stock any assault-style firearms and will also stop selling firearms online.

“What (Ardern’s) done is a very brave move, and it’s the kind of move that can only be done in a common-law country where guns are not a right,” said Alexander Gillespie, a professor of international law at Waikato University. “Guns are a real privilege. If there was a legal right like there is in the United States, this would be much more difficult.” There are nearly 250,000 licensed gun owners in New Zealand, which has a population of 5 million. Officials estimate there are 1.5 million guns in the country.

Ardern said people could hand over their prohibited guns under an amnesty while officials develop a formal buyback scheme, which could cost up to 200 million New Zealand dollars ($140 million). She said there will be “tightly regulated” exemptions for some owners such as hunters and farmers.

The government said the police and military would be exempt. Access for international shooting competitions would also be considered.

The man charged in the mosque attacks had purchased his weapons legally using a standard firearms license and enhanced their capacity by using 30-round magazines “done easily through a simple online purchase,” Ardern said.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2019