On 15 March the nation witnessed a terrorist attack that demonstrated the weakness of New Zealand’s gun laws.
New Zealand’s regulation of arms primarily dates back to 1983. Sadly since that time the most substantive changes to our laws came following the Aramoana shootings.
Those changes however did not go far enough. Successive attempts have been made and failed to change our laws since then.
Those attempts were in 1999, 2005, 2012, and more recently through a select committee inquiry in early 2017. And still none of the changes that have been made in the past dealt with one of the most glaring issues we have that sets New Zealand apart from many other nations. The availability of military style semi-automatic weapons.
The attacker on 15 March took a significant number of lives using primarily two guns. They were assault rifles and they were purchased legally on an A-Category gun licence. The standard license held by gun owners in New Zealand.
The capacity of these assault rifles was then enhanced using 30–plus-round magazines, essentially turning them into military style semi-automatic weapons. While the modification of these guns was illegal, it was done easily through a simple online purchase. The guns used in this terrorist attack had important distinguishing features. First, their capacity and also their delivery. They had the power to shoot continuously but they also had large capacity magazines.
I absolutely believe there will be a common view amongst New Zealanders, those who use guns for legitimate purposes, and those who have never touched one that he time for the mass and easy availability of these weapons must end. And today they will.
Today I’m announcing that New Zealand will ban all military style semi-automatic weapons. We will also ban all assault rifles. We will ban all high capacity magazines. We will ban all parts with the ability to convert semi-automatic or any other type of firearm into a military style semi-automatic weapon. We will ban parts that cause a firearm to generate semi-automatic, automatic, or close to automatic gunfire. In short, every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned in this country.
These changes will require legislation. That legislation has now been drafted and will be introduced under urgency. A shortened select committee process will apply. So I encourage all those who wish to submit to start now. My expectation is that the law will be in place by the end of the next two-week sitting session, which is by the 11th of April.
As a Government, however, we did not wish to allow a situation where irresponsible dealers continue to sell weapons that will be banned within a few weeks. That is why we have taken an interim measure. As at 3:00 pm today an order in council took effect. These changes to our regulations will ensure virtually all of the weapons I have announced has been banned will be categorized as weapons that require an E-Class endorsement.
The effect of this will mean that no one will be able to buy these weapons without a permit to procure from the police. I can assure people that there is no point in applying for such a permit. This is an interim measure to ensure the trade of these weapons ceases from 3 p.m. today.
As a Government we acknowledge that there will be gun owners who have legitimately purchased weapons we have now moved to ban. Some, for instance, will use them for large scale culling such as DOC. We will, as a Cabinet, work through legalised exemptions for these purposes but they will be tightly regulated. For others, these guns will now come out of circulation.
I acknowledge and thank those retailers who have voluntarily ceased to sell military style semi-automatic and assault rifles. You will have seen the collective issues we face as a country and reacted swiftly and I thank you for that. For other dealers, sales should essentially now cease. My expectation is that these weapons will be returned to your suppliers and never enter into the New Zealand market again.
For current owners of the weapons we have moved to ban, I acknowledge that many of you will have acted within the law. In recognition of that and to incentivise their return, we will be establishing a buy-back scheme. The details of the scheme are being developed in parallel to the drafting of the legislation to enforce the ban.
In the meantime we are asking all current holders of military style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles to visit http://www.police.govt.nz. There they will find details of the weapons included in the ban, and the next 48 hours a form will be available on the site that we are asking these gun owners to complete, identifying what banned guns they hold. The police will then arrange for these weapons to be handed over and eventually destroyed. Details of the weapons handed back by owners that are covered by the ban will also be taken to ensure that fair and reasonable compensation is paid once the buy-back is in place.
If owners are unable to complete the online form, they are able to contact the police on the phone to arrange the handover of these now banned guns. I do want to emphasise: to manage the flow of information to the police, online is the best way to arrange the return of your weapons. Do not arrive at the police station unannounced with these weapons in your possession.
As the legislation has developed, we will determine the time available for the return of military style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles and the duration of the buyback scheme. I can assure people that there will be time for the returns to be made and that they will not be criminalised overnight. After a reasonable period for returns those who continue to possess these guns will be in contravention of the law.
Currently the penalties for this range from fines of up to $4,000 and or three years in prison. The draft legislation will look to increase these penalties. I want to acknowledge that the weapons available in New Zealand are only part of the problem and loopholes with our current law continue to exist.
On Monday, Cabinet will receive and consider further amendments to our gun laws. These proposals will, however, go through a more fulsome process. But be assured, this is just the beginning of the work we need to do.
Finally, I want to repeat a message I have consistently shared since announcing our laws would change. We do have guns in New Zealand that are used for legitimate purposes by responsible owners every single day and that includes our rural community They manage pests. They use for animal welfare and also for recreation. I’ve been steadfast in my belief that the vast majority of these owners will support what we are doing here today because it’s about all of us. It’s in the national interest and it’s about safety. I will work hard to retain that support as we work on the remaining tranches of reform that we must make to prevent an act of terror happening in our country ever again. I’ll now hand over to the Minister of Police.
MINISTER OF POLICE HON STUART NASH: Thank you Prime Minister. Two hours ago, I was amongst a group of Ministers who signed off on the order which tightens the law on the sale of assault rifles. It is an interim step until legislation can be introduced and passed to ban all military style semi-automatics. These measures will make a real difference to enable New Zealand to become a safer place.
As the Prime Minister has already said, the time to act is now. The order which is now in effect will discourage the potential stockpiling of these assault rifles and encourage people to continue to surrender their firearms. Dozens of farm-owners have come forward so far and I expect more will do so. Police are gearing up to enable these weapons to be taken out of circulation. They’ll be supported by the New Zealand Defence Force to enable safe storage, transport, and destruction of assault rifles and MSSAs. The Prime Minister has also alluded to – police are definitely encouraging firearms owners to go to the police website and use the online form to arrange to hand over the MSSAs assault rifles. Finally, I want to remind that it is a privilege and not a right to own a firearm in New Zealand. We know that there are many gun owners with legitimate reasons for owning firearms especially in our rural and provincial communities. This work is not directed at them. Our focus is on ensuring the immediate safety and peace of mind of our communities.