Following the tragic terrorist attack on a mosque in Christchurch, the New Zealand government has introduced a ban on all military style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles. The government will hold an amnesty, followed by a buy-back scheme which could cost the government up to NZ$ 200m. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expects the new legislation to be in place by April 11th.
Ardern’s plans have received widespread support in New Zealand with many recognizing the need for the gun ownership laws to change. Deputy PM Winston Peters has given his support to the legislation despite previously opposing stricter gun control. He recognized that ‘our world has changed forever and so will our laws.’ New Zealand’s official opposition party, the National Party, and the New Zealand Federated Farmers (NZFF) have also indicated their support for the ban. Nevertheless, support is not universal as the Council of Licensed Firearm Owners (COLFO) has indicated its intent to lobby against the legislation and has called for the process to slow down. American politicians, who have also borne the brunt of fierce lobbying, have been quick to praise the ban. Senator Bernie Sanders signalled his support, stating that ‘This is what real action to stop gun violence looks like.’
These new laws would greatly restrict access to firearms, hopefully preventing a repeat of the Christchurch tragedy. The three-week timeline to get the legislation through Parliament demonstrates how seriously Ardern is taking the terrorist attack and her commitment to ensuring it does not happen again.
The ban would bring New Zealand’s gun laws closer to those of other nations, with the notable exception being the U.S., but that is a topic for another day. In itself, the legislation is hardly groundbreaking as it could well be argued that the controls on firearm ownership should have been more stringent to begin with. However this does not lessen the importance of the actions taken by the New Zealand government. Nor should it detract from the dignity and compassion with which New Zealand has dealt with the attack.
Background checks, interviews and a gun safety course are currently part of the firearm license application process. To buy an assault weapon, New Zealanders have to be 18 years of age, as opposed to 16 for a less powerful weapon, and must apply for a special permit. However, high-capacity magazines are widely sold, without any further regulation, effectively upgrading the firearm to a semi-automatic. It is thought that the gunman exploited this loophole and that it would be closed under new legislation.
Other countries have had similar responses to mass shootings in the past. In 1996, both the U.K. and Australia suffered mass shootings and subsequently held gun amnesties. Australia banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and the U.K. banned handguns (more powerful weapons were already banned).
Ardern’s compassionate leadership has been a shining example of how politicians should lead their countries. Whilst other countries are regressing into chaos, Ardern’s New Zealand is progressing, taking the steps necessary to make the country a safer and better place to live for everyone. This ban shows the world that New Zealand is taking action against violence and extremism, without letting them take hold. In short, New Zealand has shown the world how to cope with a tragedy.