NEW ZEALAND (AP) — New Zealand is six weeks into an ambitious program to buy tens of thousands of guns from owners across the country. but reaction to the scheme are mixed among gun owners.
After a lone gunman killed 51 people at two Christchurch mosques nearly six months ago, the government rushed through new laws banning military-style semi-automatics in a move which is being closely followed around the world.
Some New Zealand gun owners are upset they’re being compelled to hand over their assault weapons for money, including Paul Campbell, a chiropractor who has enjoyed target shooting since he was 10 years old.
Campbell turned up on Saturday to turn in an AR-15 rifle, an AR-10 rifle and a 1961 ex-army SLR rifle he considered sacred because it was part of a collection used by soldiers in battle.
He said he disagreed with the ban and felt it was a knee-jerk reaction to an isolated event.
Others, like Phillip Fee, believe a government-imposed ban on certain semi-automatics following a March shooting massacre was the best way to combat gun violence.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the Associated Press in July that most New Zealanders disagree with the US model under which gun ownership is seen as a constitutional right.
The new laws in New Zealand emphasise that gun ownership is instead considered a privilege.
So far, owners have turned in more than 15,000 newly banned guns as well as 64,000 parts and accessories.
In return, the government has handed them 32 million New Zealand dollars (20 million US dollars).
But nobody has a clear target for the programme because authorities haven’t kept track of the number of guns in the country.
Tentative estimates put the total number of guns in New Zealand at about 1.5 million and the number of weapons now banned at up to 175,000.
If those numbers are correct, it would mean less than 10% of the banned weapons have been handed in so far.
Owners have until December 20 to turn them over or potentially face charges.
Some politicians and opponents said the buyback scheme was a fiasco which is unfairly targeting law-abiding gun owners rather than criminals or gangs.
However, Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement, a 40-year veteran tapped to oversee the scheme, said it had been working well.
He’s been travelling the country to some of the dozens of buyback events, and said nobody really knows how many banned guns are out there so any estimates were unhelpful.
Under the buyback scheme, gun owners receive between 25% and 95% of the pre-tax price of a new gun, depending on the condition of their guns.
Police take bank details from owners and usually deposit money into their accounts within a few days.
Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist, has pleaded not guilty to terrorism, murder and attempted murder charges following the March 15 mosque attacks.
He remains in jail ahead of his trial, which has been scheduled for next May.