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New Zealand: Firearms Buyback Program Commences

(July 15, 2019) On June 20, 2019, the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts) Amendment Regulations 2019 came into effect in New Zealand. The regulations “allow for the buy-back of newly prohibited firearms and parts from owners within a six month amnesty period,” which will run until December 20, 2019. A buyback price list was subsequently published in the New Zealand Gazette, along with a brief description of the process.

The amnesty and buyback program follows the passage, in April 2019, of the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts Amendment Act 2019, which banned most semiautomatic firearms and assault rifles, along with high-capacity magazines and parts that can be used to assemble prohibited firearms. The government introduced the changes after the Christchurch mosque attacks of March 15, 2019, in which the accused gunman used legally-purchased semiautomatic weapons.

According to a government press release, the total amount set aside to fund the program is over NZ$200 million (about US$133.2 million). The press release set out the following key elements of the program:

  • The buy-back price will reflect the brand, make and model of the prohibited firearm; its base price; and its condition.
  • An extensive price list will be published [June 20, 2019,] by Police;
  • The compensation for prohibited firearms will be 95 per cent of base price for those in new or near-new condition; 70 per cent of base price for those in used condition; and 25 per cent of base price for those in poor condition;
  • The compensation for prohibited parts and magazines will be 70 per cent of base price for those in near new or used condition; and 25 per cent of base price for those in poor condition;
  • Compensation for prohibited firearms will only be paid to those with a valid firearms licence. Compensation for prohibited parts and magazines will not require a valid licence;
  • Dealers will be compensated for stock;
  • A new option allows owners of some prohibited firearms to have them modified by approved gunsmiths to make them lawful, with costs up to $300 met by the Crown;
  • Owners of unique or rare prohibited items may apply for compensation;
  • Four options for handing in prohibited firearms will be available in the community.

The Minister of Police, Stuart Nash, stated, “[t]he approach to prices balances fair compensation for people’s firearms and a fair cost for the tax payer. Police sought independent advice from KPMG to develop the price list. KPMG consulted farmers, hunters, dealers, auctioneers and gun clubs.” He further explained that

[t]here will be four options for collection: large-scale events at centralised community locations; handing over items at approved gun dealers; bulk pickups by Police; and at Police stations. Delivery to a Police station is the least preferred option.

The Police preference is for people to hand-in firearms, parts, magazines and ammunition at the large community events. This will be the most effective and efficient approach. Until then, firearms owners should keep their items safe and secure.

On July 4, 2019, New Zealand Police held a demonstration event during which they provided detailed information about the procedures to be followed at community events to be held throughout the country. In the first step, gun owners enter a “safe zone” containing a number of bullet traps and firearms chamber flags and are met by a member who “asks them if they’ve cleared their firearm, assists them to clear their firearm, and makes sure the firearm is safe and clear so that everybody is safe on the site when they carry on through the event.” Those who have not filled out the online form detailing their firearms ownership are directed to self-service kiosks in order to complete this step. Owners “either head to a desk for people using the amnesty, or to the buy-back desk for those seeking compensation.” Those seeking compensation will need to agree on the condition of their firearm and provide bank account information in order for the relevant payment to be processed, which will occur within 10 working days. According to the Police, “[s]ome guns will be disabled on the spot using a hydraulic press, which has been purchased from a family engineering business in Christchurch, while others will head into safe storage. They will later be transported to a secure location to be melted down or disposed of.”

At the time of the July 4 event, “[a]lmost 1000 guns ha[d] already been handed in to police, and another 8000 ha[d] been flagged for surrender through the online registration process.” Police expect that “tens of thousands” of guns will be handed in and destroyed during the six month program.

The first firearms collection event took place in Christchurch on July 13–14, and will be followed by 257 events around the country over the next three months. During the first event, “169 firearms owners handed in a total of 224 prohibited firearms, and 217 parts and accessories, with [NZ]$433,682 [aboutUS$257,223] compensated.”

One lobby group, the Council of Licenced Firearms Owners, said that many gun owners were disappointed and angry about the buyback prices being offered by the government. A spokeswoman for the group stated that “[m]ost of the feedback we’re receiving from our membership is that some of the higher-end firearms have been grossly miscalculated, and especially the parts – most of which are brand new – are being offered back at 70 percent or less of their value. Magazine values are also well off the price mark.” Furthermore, no prices were offered for related items, such as safes and ammunition, she said.

The National Party, currently the main opposition party in the Parliament, also raised concerns that the prices offered by the government “will likely leave many owners out of pocket, undermining the legitimacy of the scheme.”