By Phil Mercer
New Zealand has held its first public fire-arms collection event in Christchurch Saturday as part of the government’s response to the city’s mosque shootings in March. Ownership of the types of high-powered weapons used in the attacks that killed 51 people has been restricted.
There were long lines at a racecourse in Christchurch as gun-owners waited to hand in weapons that are now illegal. It is the first of more than 250 buy-back events that will be held across New Zealand. The police expect that tens of thousands of guns will be surrendered, although the exact number is unknown.
Semi-automatic weapons were outlawed following attacks on two mosques in Christchurch that left 51 people dead. The government said the law would remove the most dangerous guns from the community.
Chris Cahill, from the New Zealand Police Association, which represents officers, believes the buy-back scheme will go smoothly.
“We know the vast majority of firearms owners are law-abiding citizens,” said Cahill. “While disappointed they have to lose these sorts of firearms they understand why and they want to abide by the law.”
More than $130 million has been set aside to compensate owners of semi-automatic weapons. The amount each individual will receive will depend on the value and condition of their guns.
But some owners are complaining that the compensation is inadequate. There are concerns, too, that farming communities, which rely on firearms for hunting and pest control, will suffer because of the ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons.
Nicole McKee is a spokesperson for New Zealand’s Council of Licensed Firearms Owners.
“We are a rural and farming community here at the bottom of the world and we use firearms as a tool and there is quite a few of us that hunt as well to put food on the table,” said McKee.
New Zealand authorities hope the scheme will be as successful as one in Australia that was implemented after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 on the island of Tasmania, where a lone gunman murdered 35 people. It prompted more than 700,000 weapons to be surrendered.
The Australian man accused of the Christchurch shootings has denied 51 charges of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and a terrorism charge. He is expected to go on trial next year.
The gun collection event in Christchurch will continue Sunday.