Possession of military-style semi-automatic and assault weapons will be illegal in New Zealand as of Friday, under a precedent-shattering law passed by the nation’s parliament, reports the New Zealand Herald.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ahearn, who pushed for swift passage of the bill in an unusual bid to bypass the normal year-long process for bills to become law, said it was important to confront the nation’s shock and trauma following the March 15 incident in Christchurch, when a white nationalist stormed two mosques, killing 50 people and wounding at least 50 others.
“I could not hand-on-heart go down and face not just the media, not just the public, but the victims that had been left behind from this terror attack and tell them hand-on-heart that our system and our laws allow these guns to be available, and that was okay,” Ahearn told members of parliament in an unusual appearance on the third and final reading of the bill Wednesday.
“Because it was not.”
Under the bill, possession of prohibited firearms carries a jail term up to five years. There are narrow exemptions for pest control, arms collectors, heirlooms and mementos.
Ardern told parliamentarians that she could not “fathom how weapons that could cause such destruction and large-scale death could have been obtained legally” in New Zealand.
The bill includes a government buyback scheme which offers compensation for high-capacity magazines and gun parts, as well as prohibited firearms – but the amount may be capped and may exclude any business losses.
Regulations for the buyback scheme include provisions for compensation to be capped for firearms and gun parts, and for a limit on a specific part, for example the maximum number of magazines that a person can be compensated for.
That means a person who surrenders 50 high capacity magazines may not receive compensation for each magazine.
Compensation will also only be considered for firearms and parts that were lawfully obtained, and from people with the appropriate firearms licence “or persons lawfully in possession of prohibited items.”
Ahearn said she made the decision to bypass normal parliamentary procedure after a briefing with New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush shortly after the terror attack. Bush told her the gunman had obtained his firepower legally.
“Fifty people died and they do not have a voice,” she said. “We in this House are their voice. And today we have used that voice wisely.”