While New Zealand police on Saturday praised firearms owners for handing in their now illegal weapons as part of a buyback and amnesty scheme, opposition politicians and the gun owner lobby called it a failure.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government banned military-style semi-automatic weapons less than a month after a suspected white supremacist killed 51 people and injured 50 in a massacre at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15. Gun owners had until Saturday to return their firearms to receive a payout.
‘As of midnight, 20 December 2019, 56,250 firearms and 194,245 parts have been handed in,’ Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement said in a statement.
He said police experienced a surge of people in the last few days of the buy-back with more than 4100 hand-ins occurring in the last week. About 102.2 million New Zealand dollars (67.5 million dollars) has been paid out in compensation.
‘We kept our collection events open late last night to ensure those firearms owners who left it to the last minute did have the opportunity to do the right thing,’ he said.
The gun buyback was unprecedented and had been a huge logistical exercise for police who held 685 collection events around the country.
Mark Mitchell from the opposing National Party said police failed to buy back ‘anywhere near the number of firearms it was aiming for.’ As there is no gun registry in New Zealand, estimates of how many of the now illegal semi-automatic firearms were in circulation differ wildly.
While police earlier this year estimated that there were between 56,000 and 173,000 prohibited firearms, Mitchell suggested numbers were ‘as high as between 170,000 and 240,000 firearms.’ In a statement, Nicole McKee, spokesperson of the lobbying group Council of Licenced Firearms Owners (COLFO), said the organisation believed that ‘two thirds of the firearms banned have been retained by owners.’ The group criticised that more firearms were banned than the government initially claimed claimed as well as ‘poor compensation, export bans ruining the opportunity of selling up valuable collections, and police destroying prized and historic firearms.’ Police Minister Stuart Nash on Saturday said the number of firearms handed in or still being processed was within the range estimated by consultancy firm KPMG which provided independent advice to police.
‘However police have consistently warned the problem is we just don't know exactly how many guns are out in the community,’ Nash added. The government has proposed the establishment of a gun registry in a second tranche of gun laws.
‘We are now moving to the next phase, to ensure firearms cannot fall into the wrong hands.
‘This is the objective of the proposed gun register and tighter licensing system,’ he said.
Nash advised people holding onto illegal weapons to ‘voluntarily surrender them or face risk of prosecution, loss of licence and firearms, and five years in jail.
Anyone who was hiding their guns was ‘a criminal’, he said.
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