New Zealand has proven yet again that comprehensive gun reform can be accomplished. Just a month into the country’s gun buyback program, residents have voluntarily surrendered more than 11,000 firearms to the authorities.
Less than six months after an Australian white supremacist walked into two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and killed 51 while streaming the attack live on Facebook, the country is calling their new gun buyback program a success. A total of 11,511 firearms have been voluntarily turned in to the New Zealand government since the buyback began in mid July, according to police. More than 1,200 of those weapons were handed over under amnesty, which means unlicensed gun owners could hand in illicitly obtained guns anonymously without any questions from authorities.
More than 7,000 gun owners have attended over 90 buyback program events around the country, according to local police. The government is offering gun owners 95% of the gun’s market value in cash.
There will be at least 250 buyback events this year.
“We have been really happy with New Zealand's engagement and response to this process and we look forward to more people taking part in the buyback scheme over the coming months,” New Zealand police said in a statement.
The program was just one of the components in new gun legislation passed by New Zealand’s government shortly after the Christchurch shooting in March. The legislation, which was passed within 10 days of the shooting, outright bans semi-automatic and automatic rifles as well as weapon attachments that modify weapons to shoot at a faster rate. Legislators also set aside $150 million for the buyback program.
“I strongly believe that the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest, and will take these changes in their stride,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at the time.
Ardern was mostly right. Many gun owners jumped at the chance to get rid of their weapons. But the legislation also had its fair share of detractors. In March, more than nearly 16,000 people signed a petition opposing the proposed assault rifle ban, saying that the government acted too fast when it moved to implement its new gun control measures.
Gun owners will have until December 20, 2019 to hand in their semi-automatic weapons before the ban is enforced. After the December cut-off, possession of these firearms will be punishable up to five years in prison.
Though New Zealand doesn’t require gun owners to register their weapons, local police have estimated there are somewhere between 1.2 and 1.5 million guns in circulation in the country.
New Zealand’s program is not the first of its kind. Just over 23 years ago, Australia passed sweeping gun reform bills after a gunman shot and killed 35 people in Tasmania. The country bought back 720,000 assault weapons by 2003. The country hasn’t seen a single mass shooting since then and suicide rates have seen a major drop off in the last two decades, according to the Washington Post.
Buybacks have also been implemented in the U.S. Last year, the city of Baltimore took more than 1,100 guns off its streets by offering residents up to $500 for the weapons and gun accessories. The city spend more than $163,000 on the buyback.
Earlier this month, former vice president and 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden suggested using a gun buyback program in concert with a federal ban on automatic weapons to overhaul America’s approach to gun control.
For decades, the U.S. has struggled to pass any significant legislation on gun reform, even as the country reels from mass shootings that have become a daily tragedy. More than 257 Americans have been killed in mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. This month alone, more than 30 people were killed in mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, El Paso, Texas and Gilroy, California.
Cover: In this handout image provided by New Zealand Police, collected firearms are seen at Riccarton Racecourse on July 13, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by New Zealand Police/Getty Images)