The New Zealand Government has indefinitely extended its firearms amnesty and buyback scheme, prompted by the deadly attacks on two mosques in Christchurch on March 15 this year. The six-month scheme has been compensating owners of newly banned semi-automatic firearms since June.
Owners of banned guns would still only have until December 20 to receive compensation for handing in their firearms, but would now be able to hand them in without penalty after that date.
The Council of Licenced Firearms Owners (COLFO) in New Zealand said the decision was effectively an admission the program had been a failure. “The process has been badly handled by the Government and police from the start,” COLFO spokeswoman Nicole McKee said.
To date, more than 21,000 people have handed in almost 37,000 firearms across 356 collection points at a cost of more than NZ$70million (the Government has allocated NZ$200million). New Zealand media outlets have reported up to 175,000 semi-automatic rifles in the country, which equates to a compliance rate of about 21 per cent with four weeks of the scheme to go.
However, COLFO claims the number of semi-automatic rifles is more like 200,000. “The buyback here in New Zealand is a failure,” Ms McKee said. “To have such a low number handed in is an indication that the process developed for collection hasn’t worked.”
A spokesperson for NZ Police said that as firearms are not currently required to be registered in New Zealand, police do not know how many newly prohibited firearms are in the community. “As part of the buyback, Police have made every effort to provide a range of options to firearms owners to hand in their prohibited firearms and parts, including holding hundreds of collection events around New Zealand, providing a dealer network for hand-in, pick-up at home for large quantities of firearms and hand-in at police stations,” the spokesperson said.
But Ms McKee disputed this. “In actual fact all endorsed firearms, including military style semi-automatics, collectors’ items and pistols are under a current, error-riddled registration system,” she said.
NZ Police added that “the vast majority of those attending have been very positive about their experience and understand the need to comply”.
COLFO has encouraged members to comply with the scheme but labelled it unsuccessful, particularly when compared to Australia’s efforts in the wake of the Port Arthur tragedy. “The rushed legislation and collection process, while the finer points are still being defined, makes this entire process a failure,” Ms McKee said. “Australia had the vision to run their buyback and amnesty process for 12 months, so it would make good sense for New Zealand to follow suit to encourage compliance.”