A far-right mass murderer opens fire on a crowd of worshippers. His guns discharge hundreds of rounds in a matter of minutes. Bullets enter dozens of bodies indiscriminately. Fifty-one people die. A further 49 are injured. It is the deadliest domestic attack in modern history.
Within days, lawmakers vow to take decisive action. Legislation is drafted to ban nearly all semi-automatic weapons. High capacity magazines are prohibited. A gun buyback program is announced. These measures receive widespread, bipartisan support, and are signed into law less than a month after the attack.
Oh, what it must be like to live anywhere except the United States.
The sequence of events transpired earlier this year in New Zealand, where a white supremacist zealot gunned down more than 50 people at a mosque in the city of Christchurch. It was the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history, and within hours, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the country and vowed to take swift action to prevent future atrocities.
One of the first steps she unveiled was to announce a voluntary gun buyback program, wherein gun owners could trade in their firearms in exchange for cash at up to 95% of the value of their gun. They included an amnesty clause as well, meaning anyone with a gun obtained illegally could also turn it in without legal repercussions.
Just one month into the buyback program, authorities have taken more than 10,000 guns out of circulation.
Nearly 100 different buyback events have been staged so far throughout the country, and officials expect to hold at least 150 more between now and December, when it officially becomes illegal to possess semi-automatic guns, high capacity magazines, and other newly banned weapons.
The effectiveness of the buyback program is a blow to pro-gun groups in New Zealand and abroad. They were gleeful at first, after Arden’s initial call for the voluntary surrender of weapons was met with a tepid response. In the first few days after her widely lauded public address in March in which she asked people to turn in their deadly weapons, just 37 guns were turned into police. By the end of June, the number had only risen to about 700, in a country with more than a million firearms.
But since the buyback program was launched, the rates have shot up. “We have been really happy with New Zealand’s engagement and response to this process and we look forward to more people taking part in the buyback scheme over the coming months,” read a statement issued by New Zealand police.
Gun buybacks have been tried elsewhere, including in the United States, with varying degrees of effectiveness. When administered properly though, there is evidence to suggest a gun buyback program can have a measurable impact on violent crime.
In Boston, a 2006 buyback program gave participants $200 gift cards in exchange for a handgun. The following year, the number of shootings in the city fell by 14%, and continued to fall for years afterwards.
In Australia, a mandatory gun buyback program implemented in the wake of a mass shooting in the mid-1990s resulted in a reduction of gun-related suicides and homicides of roughly 80%, according to an analysis from researchers at Harvard University.