Less than a week after the worst mass shooting in the country’s history, New Zealand has announced a national ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons, with the support of both the government and opposition parties.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the ban on Thursday, which also included assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, and parts that allow weapons to be modified into the type used by the far-right gunman who killed 50 worshippers at two mosques in the city of Christchurch last Friday. The country’s cabinet agreed to the changes in principle less than 72 hours after the attack, and they expect to introduce legislation by mid-April.
Conservative opposition leader Simon Bridges, of the New Zealand National Party, was quick to support the government reforms. “The terrorist attack in Christchurch last week changed us as a nation,” he said in a statement. “National has been clear since this devastating attack that we support changes to our regime and that we will work constructively with the Government.”
“We agree that the public doesn’t need access to military style semi-automatic weapons,” Bridges continued. “We also support the Government’s proposals to limit the access to other high powered semi-automatic weapons and ammunition.”
The proposal was also supported by Chris Cahill of the Police Association, which represents New Zealand’s law enforcement officers. “This [bill] addresses the key concerns we have,” he said. “It’s hitting those military-style semiautomatics. It’s exactly what we wanted.”
The reactions stand in stark contrast to the United States, where mass shooting after mass shooting — whether at Virginia Tech, at Sandy Hook Elementary, in Parkland, Florida or in Las Vegas — leads to desperate calls for change, but rarely any substantial action other than calls for “thoughts and prayers.” Often, conservative lawmakers cite the Second Amendment to criticize gun control advocates as anti-American or a threat to democracy.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) noted as much in a tweet on Thursday night, after the ban in New Zealand was announced.
“Sandy Hook happened 6 years ago and we can’t even get the Senate to hold a vote on universal background checks,” she wrote. “Christchurch happened, and within days New Zealand acted to get weapons of war out of the consumer market.”
The New Zealand government is still going over the specifics of how the ban will work, but there’s expected to be a lengthy amnesty period and buyback program for those possessing the type of weapons in question. Officials have admitted that they have “no idea” how many of the 1.2 million to 1.5 million guns in New Zealand will be affected by this new legislation, so the buyback could cost anywhere from $100 million to $200 million. Weapons used for hunting and pest control, such as shotguns that hold no more than five rounds, are to be excluded from the ban.
The legislation is likely to most heavily impact rural New Zealanders, where recreational shooting and hunting is popular. However the Federated Farmers, the country’s main farm lobby, has also announced it supports the measures, although it admits that they might not be popular among some of its members. There have also been stories of New Zealanders already voluntarily returning their weapons in wake of the shooting.
The New Zealand legislation closely follows the model used by Australia after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, where 35 were killed in the country’s worst mass shooting. In the immediate aftermath, the Australian government introduced the National Firearms Agreement, which outlawed automatic and semi-automatic rifles, pump action shotguns, and launched a gun buyback scheme that saw 640,000 weapons turned into authorities.