New Zealand will ban military-style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles under tough new gun laws, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday.
The decision follows the killing of 50 people in the country’s worst mass shooting by a gunman at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15, Friday last.
Ms. Ardern said she expected the new laws to be in place by April 11 and a buy-back scheme would be established for banned weapons.
“Now, six days after this attack, we are announcing a ban on all military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles,” Ms. Ardern said.
Related parts used to convert guns into MSSAs are also to be banned along with all high-capacity magazines.
Ban in Australia
Australia banned semi-automatic weapons and launched a gun buy-back after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 in which 35 people were gunned down. Semi-automatic rifle AR-15 was used in this attack. It has been used in a number of high-profile U.S. mass shootings.
“On 15 March our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too. We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place,” Ms. Ardern said.
Similar to Australia, the new gun laws will allow for strictly enforced exemptions for farmers to conduct pest control and animal welfare.
“I strongly believe that the vast majority of legitimate gunowners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest, and will take these changes in their stride,” she said.
Federated Farmers, which represents thousands of farmers, said it supported the change.
“This will not be popular among some of our members but after a week of intense debate and careful consideration by our elected representatives and staff, we believe this is the only practicable solution,” Federated Farmers Rural Security spokesman Miles Anderson said in a statement.
New Zealand, a country of less than 5 million people, has an estimated 1.2 to 1.5 million firearms, around 13,500 of them MSSAs.
The minimum legal age to own a gun in New Zealand is currently 16, or 18 for MSSAs.
Mosques to reopen for Friday prayers
The bullet-riddled Al Noor mosque in Christchurch was being repaired, painted and cleaned ahead of Friday prayers, as grieving families buried more victims. The majority of the casualties were from this mosque.
The nearby Linwood mosque, which was the second mosque to be attacked, is also scheduled to be reopened tomorrow.
Ms. Ardern has announced that Friday’s call to prayers for Muslims will be broadcast nationally and there will be a two-minute silence.
Armed police have been guarding mosques around New Zealand since the attacks. “We will have a heightened presence tomorrow in order to provide reassurance to people attending the Friday call for prayers,” police said in a statement on Thursday.
“Police have been working relentlessly, doing everything in our power to gather all appropriate evidence from what are active crime scenes so we can allow people to return to the mosques as quickly as possible,” the statement said.
Most victims were migrants
Most victims were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist who was living in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, has been charged with murder following the attack.
He was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.
The first victims were buried on Wednesday and burials continued on Thursday, with the funeral of a school boy.
Families of the victims have been frustrated by the delay as under Islam bodies are usually buried within 24 hours.
Mass burial on Friday
A mass burial is expected to be held on Friday. Body-washing will go on through the day and night to have the dead ready for burial, said one person involved in the process.
Police have identified and released to families the bodies of some 30 victims.
Twenty-nine people injured in the attacks remained in hospital, with eight still in intensive care.
The gunman broadcast his attack live on Facebook and it was quickly distributed to other platforms, prompting Ms. Ardern and others to rebuke technology companies and call for greater efforts to stop violence and extremist views being aired on social media.