(Apr. 17, 2019) On April 10, 2019, the New Zealand Parliament passed, with a vote of 119–1, the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill, which bans most semiautomatic firearms and assault rifles along with high-capacity magazines and parts that can be used to assemble prohibited firearms. (Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill, NEW ZEALAND PARLIAMENT (last visited Apr. 10, 2019); Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts Amendment Act 2019, New Zealand legislation website. See also Changes to Firearms Law – Prohibited Firearms, NEW ZEALAND POLICE (last updated Apr. 16, 2019).) The Bill received royal assent on April 11, 2019, with the amendments coming into force the following day.
The Bill was introduced on April 1, 2019, following an attack, on March 15, 2019, in which a gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch. (Press Release, Stuart Nash, Tighter Gun Law to Enhance Public Safety (Apr. 1, 2019), New Zealand Government website.) Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Minister of Police, Stuart Nash, had officially announced the government’s intention to ban certain firearms, including the types used in the Christchurch attack, on March 21. (Press Release, Jacinda Ardern & Stuart Nash, New Zealand Bans Military Style Semi-Automatics and Assault Rifles (Mar. 21, 2019), New Zealand Government website.) This followed Cabinet decisions taken on March 18, three days after the attacks. (Id.)
The initial announcement stated that a bill would be introduced during the next sitting week of the Parliament, and that interim regulatory measures had been taken under the Arms Act 1983 to reclassify certain weapons as Military Style Semi-automatics (MSSAs), the purchase of which requires an “E endorsement” on firearms licenses, thereby immediately preventing their sale to standard license-holders. (Id.; Arms Act 1983, New Zealand Legislation website. For information on firearms law in New Zealand, see Kelly Buchanan, Firearms-Control Legislation and Policy: New Zealand (Law Library of Congress, Feb. 2013).)
Following the introduction of the Bill, the government moved that it be considered under the “urgency” procedures in the Parliament’s Standing Orders. (Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), Vol. 737 (Apr. 2, 2019), Chris Hipkins (Leader of the House), Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts ) Amendment Bill – Procedure.) This allows a bill to be “proceeded with to a completion at that sitting of the House, and the sitting is extended accordingly.” (New Zealand Parliament, Standing Orders 2017, SO 58(1). See also What is ‘Urgency’?, NEW ZEALAND PARLIAMENT (May 25, 2017).)
A truncated select committee process was conducted for the Bill, with a report-back date of April 8, 2019. (Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), Vol. 737 (Apr. 2, 2019), Stuart Nash (Minister of Police), Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill – First Reading.) The Finance and Expenditure Committee received more than 13,000 submissions on the Bill and held one day of hearings, with certain submitters invited to present their submissions to the Committee in person. Of the submissions received by the Committee, “about 60 percent supported the bill, 26 percent were opposed to the bill, and 14 percent expressed another view.” (Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill: Submissions and Advice, NEW ZEALAND PARLIAMENT (last visited Apr. 16, 2019); Finance and Expenditure Committee, New Zealand Parliament, Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill – Final Report 4 (Apr. 2019).)
The Committee recommended several amendments to the Bill. These included expanding a proposed exemption to the prohibitions on relevant firearms to allow their use by professional pest control businesses on private land, rather than only on Department of Conservation land; and “inserting an additional condition of endorsement for bona fide collectors of firearms into clause 31, to require the removed vital part of a prohibited firearm to be stored at a separate address, which would be regulated by the Police.” (Finance and Expenditure Committee, supra, at 4.) These and other changes recommended by the Committee were included in a Supplementary Order Paper that was approved during the Committee of the Whole House stage. (Supplementary Order Paper No. 201, Proposed Amendments to the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill.)
The Bill completed the Second Reading stage on April 9, and the Committee of the Whole House and Third Reading stages on April 10. (Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill, supra.)
Amendments Contained in the Bill
The government’s press release announcing the introduction of the Bill stated that it would amend the Arms Act 1983 to
- Ban semi-automatic weapons and military style semi-automatics (MSSAs)
- Ban parts, magazines and ammunition which can be used to assemble a prohibited firearm or convert a lower-powered firearm into a semi-automatic
- Ban pump action shotguns with more than a five shot capacity
- Ban semi-automatic shotguns with a capacity to hold a detachable magazine, or with an internal magazine capable of holding more than five cartridges
- Exempt some semi-automatic firearms, such as .22 calibres and shotguns, which have limited ammunition capacity
- Create tougher penalties and introduce new offences
- Create new definitions of prohibited firearms, prohibited magazines, prohibited parts and prohibited ammunition
- Establish an amnesty for firearms owners who take steps to hand over unlawful weapons, parts, magazines and ammunition to Police by 30 September 2019 (Press Release, Stuart Nash, supra.)
Further information on the amendments was contained in the explanatory note that accompanied the Bill, which stated that
[t]he Bill seeks to remove semi-automatic firearms from circulation and use by the general population in New Zealand. The Bill achieves this by prohibiting semi-automatic firearms, magazines, and parts that can be used to assemble prohibited firearms.
The prohibition will include the existing category of semi-automatic firearms defined as Military Style Semi-Automatics (MSSAs), which are already subject to greater licensing controls under the Act compared with other types of firearms. The prohibition will extend beyond MSSAs to include most semi-automatic firearms, and some shotguns. Some small-calibre rimfire semi-automatic firearms and lesser-capacity shotguns are excluded from the prohibition. Those excluded firearms are commonly used in the farming, hunting, and recreational communities, and have a limited magazine capacity.
A small number of firearms licence holders are permitted under the Bill to import, sell, supply, and possess semi-automatic firearms and other items for genuine and justifiable reasons. They will need to apply to the Police to obtain the necessary approvals in order to qualify for the exemptions. (Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill, Government Bill 125-1, Explanatory Note.)
Buyback of Prohibited Firearms
The government’s press release upon the introduction of the Bill included the following statement regarding a proposed buyback of prohibited firearms by the government:
Police and the Treasury are working on the details of the buyback. The underlying principle is that fair and reasonable compensation will be paid. It will take into account the age and type of weapon, and the market value. It is estimated it will cost between $100 million and $200 million. (Press Release, Stuart Nash, supra.)
Following the initial announcements from the government regarding the law changes, the New Zealand Police published information regarding the initial and proposed changes and produced an online form related to handing firearms in to the Police. New frequently asked questions, published on April 11, 2019, state that
[t]he amnesty from prosecution for possession of prohibited firearms, parts, and magazines will run for six months from the time the buyback scheme is put in place by regulation.
Police encourages any person now in possession of a prohibited item to safely secure it and notify Police by completing the online form or calling 0800 311 311. This will enable Police to contact you in the future about the process for handing in your firearm/s and about the buyback for prohibited items.
Please do not hand your firearm/s into Police at this stage. (Firearms Changes FAQs, NEW ZEALAND POLICE (last updated Apr. 11, 2019).)
According to the Police, “[t]here have already been more than 1000 people who have notified us of their intention to hand over their firearms to Police.” (Id.) The site also indicates that there will be an appeals process as part of the buyback compensation scheme. (Id.)
The government’s press release also indicated that further changes to the Arms Act, to be introduced later in 2019, would include
- A register of firearms
- Licensing of firearms owners and the Police vetting process for a ‘fit and proper person’
- The Police inspection and monitoring regime, such as rules around storage of firearms (Press Release, Stuart Nash, supra.)