New Zealand passes gun law reform in wake of Christchurch attack

Parliament votes sweeping changes in gun rules as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern remembers victims of mosque attack.

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    New Zealand passes gun law reform in wake of Christchurch attack
    'I cannot imagine circumstances where that is more necessary than it is now,' the prime minister said of the gun reforms [Jorge Silva/Reuters]

    Auckland, New Zealand - New Zealand's parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favour of legislation to ban semi-automatic and military-style weapons.

    The changes were first proposed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern just days after a gunman carried out an indiscriminate shooting spree in two Christchurch mosques, killing 50 Muslims.

    "We are here because of them, and I believe they are here with us, supporting what we are doing here because these weapons were designed to kill, and they were designed to maim and that is what they did on the 15th of March," Ardern told parliament on Wednesday.

    The gun reform bill also enacts a ban on pump action shotguns with detachable and non-detachable magazines and parts that enable firearms to be converted into more powerful weapons.

    Just one of the of 120 members of parliament opposed the legislation, called The Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazine and parts) Amendment Bill.

    Twenty-eight-year-old Brenton Tarrant, the self-confessed white supremacist charged over the mosque attacks, purchased his weapons legally online and modified their capacity by using 30-round magazines.

    He held an A category gun licence, the standard licence for gun owners in New Zealand.

    "I cannot fathom how weapons that could cause such destruction and large-scale death could have been obtained legally in this country," Ardern said.

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    "We are here as an almost entirely united Parliament… there have been very few occasions when I have seen Parliament come together in this way and I can not imagine circumstances where that is more necessary than it is now," she added.

    'The first step'

    Police Minister Stuart Nash said the new law is "just the first step of many to make our country safer".

    The bill still needs to be granted Royal Assent by the governor-general of New Zealand, seen as a formality, and is expected to officially pass into law on Friday, exactly four weeks after the attacks.

    The legislation has been pushed through in under two weeks, with gun owners given just one day to make oral submissions on the fast-tracked laws.

    More than 13,000 New Zealanders provided written submissions on reforming The Arms Amendment Bill which were considered by the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee.

    It recommended only minor changes with Chairperson Michael Wood revealing around 60 percent of the submissions were in favour.

    The president of the Islamic Association of New Zealand, Mustafa Farouk, said the speed with which the legislation was passed was necessary to honour the victims of the country’s worst-ever attack.

    "It tells our community that our government took what happened in Christchurch seriously. The laws also are part of telling the families of the victims that they will get justice."

    Farouk told Al Jazeera: "New Zealand is showing the world that the interest of wider society is greater than individuals' or lobbyists'. Other countries can borrow a leaf from New Zealand regarding how to create a cross-party agreement and expedite passing such legislations."

    New Zealand has around 250,000 licenced firearm owners, many of them farmers who use weapons to help eradicate pests.

    Exemption denied

    Advocacy organisation Federated Farmers had asked for an exemption for hill and high country farmers who could demonstrate a genuine need for semi-automatic weapons.

    That request was denied. Instead, farmers will now have to employ specialist contractors, approved by the police, to eliminate pests.

    Rural security spokesperson Miles Anderson said the organisation understood the government's desire to urgently put in place restrictions that could improve public safety.

    "Right from the start, we came out in support of that aim. But we believe political expediency and the cramped timeframe to get new restrictions into law has been at the expense of getting practical policies in place that will work both for public safety and animal pest control - and that will stand the test of time," he told Al Jazeera.

    New Zealanders will still be able to use guns capable of firing only 0.22 or lower calibre rimfire cartridges from a magazine that can hold no more than 10 cartridges, and lesser-capacity shotguns that can hold no more than 5 cartridges.

    "One member of the Select Committee has already suggested that tweaks to the new legislation may well be required in the second tranche of firearms legislation changes to come later in the year. In our view, it would have been better to get the details right in the bill currently in front of Parliament," Anderson added.

    Owners of banned firearms and magazines will be able to claim compensation, with the government also announcing on Wednesday the first details of a buy-back scheme.

    An independent group of advisors will create a price list for the programme, with the date of manufacture and make of the weapon to be taken into account.

    Only people who legally obtained the firearms will be eligible.

    To date, more than 300 weapons have been handed over during the amnesty, which is set to last until the end of September.

    The amendments set to be passed into law are just the first in a set of reforms to the Arms Act which have been signalled by the Government.

    Its focus will now turn to reforming the vetting process to address what the police minister describes as "long-debated" questions around gun registers and the licensing regime.

    It's expected that the bill will be drafted by June.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News