Dozens of Christchurch gun owners on Saturday handed over weapons in exchange for money, in the first of more than 250 planned buyback events across New Zealand after the government outlawed many types of semi-automatics.
Police said they paid more than NZ$430,000 (US$288,000) to 169 gun owners during the event. The money was paid directly into the bank accounts of owners.
New Zealand lawmakers in April rushed through new legislation to ban so-called military-style weapons after a lone gunman killed 51 people at two Christchurch mosques in March.
The government has set aside more than NZ$200 million to buy back weapons such as AR-15-style rifles, although many owners remain unhappy with the scheme.
Under an amnesty, gun owners have until December to turn over now-banned weapons.
Police said at least 14,000 guns across the country are banned under the new legislation. There are an estimated 1 million to 1.5 million guns in New Zealand and 250,000 licensed owners.
Under the buyback scheme, gun owners are compensated between 25 percent and 95 percent of the pretax price of a new gun, depending on the condition of the weapon.
People who own guns that are not banned under the new laws can also turn over their weapons during the amnesty, although they would not get any compensation.
Police said a half-dozen such weapons were turned in during the Christchurch event.
Police are using hydraulic machines to crush the gun barrels and firing mechanisms of the weapons that are handed in, rendering them inoperable, before disposing of them.
Mike Johnson, an acting district police commander, said the Christchurch buyback had been a success and the attitude of gun owners was “outstanding.”
New Zealand Minister of Police Stuart Nash said the results from the first collection were encouraging.
“Many of those who handed over firearms commented how easy the process is, how the prices are fair, and how police made the whole event go smoothly,” Nash said in a statement.
However, Council of Licensed Firearms Owners secretary Nicole McKee said the government was shortchanging owners by trying to complete the buyback cheaply.
Gun owners were forced to rely on police assessments of the condition of their guns and were not getting paid anything for the thousands of dollars they had spent on tax as well as accessories and ammunition, McKee said.
“They do want to abide by the new laws, but they have no incentive and they’re having fingers pointed at them and are being treated like criminals,” McKee said. “They’re angry at the way they’re being treated.”
The council has launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise money to fight against possible further government-imposed gun restrictions.
Hera Cook, a public health researcher who cofounded the group Gun Control NZ after the March attacks, said that before the massacre, most New Zealanders had no idea how easy it was to get hold of weapons like the ones that were used.
Hopefully the government enacts further gun control measures, including creating a register of guns and introducing shorter license periods for gun owners, Cook said.
Some of the gun owners complaints about getting short-changed or treated badly appeared to have some merit, and that “wasn’t a good look” for the government, she said.
Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, has pleaded not guilty to terrorism, murder and attempted murder charges following the March attacks. He remains in jail ahead of his trial, which has been scheduled for May next year.
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