New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday that the country will ban military-style semiautomatic weapons in an announcement that comes just six days after shootings at two mosques in Christchurch killed 50 people.
“Every semiautomatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned,” Ardern said at a news conference.
A gunman opened fire on the mosques during Friday prayers, killing 50 and injuring dozens more. Ardern said Thursday that the shooter used two legally purchased semiautomatic rifles that were modified with high-capacity magazines, “turning them into military-style semiautomatic weapons.” A suspect in the massacre, a white supremacist extremist, has been arrested.
A day after the shootings, Ardern pledged to change New Zealand’s gun laws and said she would announce plans within 10 days.
The ban includes military-style assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and tools to modify firearms, and the arms “will be categorized as weapons with an E-class endorsement” until legislation formally passes, according to Ardern. Most people in New Zealand likely do not have a license for that class of firearm, meaning an owner of such weapons would be breaking the law with the new categorization. Once legislation on the ban passes, which is expected, possessing such firearms will result in a $4,000 fine or three years in prison.
The ban is also supported by the opposition party in New Zealand, according to its leader.
The exceptions to the ban would include semiautomatic .22-caliber firearms as well as semiautomatic shotguns with magazines holding a maximum of five rounds. Ardern said those guns are commonly used for hunting and pest control.
The prime minister said the interim measure means New Zealand police must approve military-style weapon purchases.
Parliament is hoping to create a buyback scheme in which gun owners will be compensated for returning their weapons. Ardern said weapon sales “should now cease” and expects stores to return their firearms stock to suppliers.
The prime minister told gun owners to visit the New Zealand police website to fill out a form to turn in their weapons, stressing that they not show up unannounced to a police station with their firearms.
Small Arms Survey estimates that 1.2 million firearms belong to civilians in New Zealand. About 15,000 of those are what the country calls “military-style semiautomatic” rifles, or MSSAs. New Zealand’s gun laws have been incredibly lax up until this point, especially compared with neighboring Australia.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said Thursday that “owning a firearm is a privilege and not a right in New Zealand.”
Nash also said the full ban will go into effect in three weeks and that anyone who applies to buy a gun during that period is wasting their time.
“I can assure you that’d be a fairly pointless exercise,” Ardern said.
The prime minister said her Cabinet will meet Monday to consider more changes to gun laws, saying there are still loopholes.
This article has been updated with more details on the proposed ban.