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New Zealand To Ban Weapons Such As Those Used In Last Week's Attacks


In the hours after the attacks on two mosques in New Zealand, that country's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, promised swift action. Less than a week after the mass shooting that killed 50 people, she delivered on that pledge today.


PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: New Zealand will ban all military-style semi-automatic weapons. We will also ban all assault rifles. We will ban all high-capacity magazines.

MARTIN: Ardern announced an amnesty and a buyback program so owners could hand in their weapons to the state. NPR's Rob Schmitz has been in Christchurch, New Zealand, reporting after the attack and is with us this morning to talk about this development.

Good morning, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So we heard the prime minister there saying New Zealand's going to ban all semi-automatic weapons. Can you talk more broadly about the scope of these tighter gun laws? Is that where it ends?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. There's going to be a vote that will need to happen to make this sort of enshrined into law. But one of the things that she did today was to reclassify a license as needed to possess a semi-automatic weapon, which will essentially force nearly everyone who has these weapons to immediately turn them in. And these include guns like the AR-15, which was used in the Christchurch attack, and semi-automatic shotguns with detachable magazines, which was also used in the attack on the mosques here. New Zealand also banned high-capacity magazines, which can hold up to 30 rounds of ammunition. And up to now, it was legal for anyone, with or without a gun license, to buy and sell these magazines in New Zealand.

MARTIN: So for gun owners who currently possess these weapons that are now going to be banned, what do they do?

SCHMITZ: So according to the government, among the 1.5 million guns in New Zealand, there are 13,500 guns that are now banned. And for the folks who own them, they'll be required to go online and register with the police to set up a time when they can come into the local police station and hand their guns in. In return, they're going to get money back. If they do not comply, they could face up to a few years in prison. This buyback program is going to cost the government up to around $140 million. And what's interesting about today's news is that the government announced this is just the first step. Later this month, the government will announce new rules for obtaining a gun license, storing your gun and more severe penalties for not complying with gun regulations inside New Zealand.

MARTIN: So how are people responding to this? I mean, you say that the opposition is on board, so she doesn't - the prime minister doesn't face political opposition here. What about just regular citizens?

SCHMITZ: I think, you know, that's a good sign that - the opposition being on board with this - is that the population is also on board. By and large, everyone I've spoken to today applauded the prime minister and the government in this action. I spent some time this afternoon at the makeshift shrine at the Christchurch botanical gardens for the victims of the attack. And I spoke to John Overend, who had driven here from the countryside to show his support. He is a gun owner. And I asked him what he thought of the semi-automatic weapons ban.

JOHN OVEREND: Good idea - I'm a farmer. And I've got guns but just for pests and things like that. But semi-automatics aren't what you use for shooting pests. They're for killing people.

SCHMITZ: And, Rachel, you know, I've been asking questions about guns to folks here all week. And I've really been struck by how many people in the gun industry also agreed that semi-automatics need to be banned. One gun owner I spoke to had taken all of his semi-automatic weapons off the shelves the day of the attack. And he stopped selling high-capacity magazines too. The manager of the rifle range that the alleged attacker was a member of also told me that he shut down his gun club to show respect for the victims. Both of these men told me they were doing these things because they felt it was the right thing to do.

MARTIN: NPR's Rob Schmitz from Christchurch, New Zealand. Thanks so much, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.