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Urgent changes to gun laws – Expert Reaction


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced urgent gun legislation following last week’s mosque shootings.

The ban covers all military style semi-automatics and assault rifles, with exemptions for .22 calibre rifles and duck hunting shotguns.

An amnesty will be put in place for weapons to be handed in, and Cabinet has directed officials to develop a buyback scheme.

In the meantime, the weapons have been re-categorised as requiring an E endorsement on a firearms licence, preventing their sale to people with A category licences.

Legislation to give effect to the ban will be introduced under urgency when Parliament sits in the first week of April.

The SMC gathered expert comment on the announcement.

Dr Samara McPhedran, Director, Homicide Research Unit, Griffith University, Australia, comments:

Bans on MSSAs

“The measures PM Ardern has announced today are very, very different to the approach that Australia took after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. It appears that the New Zealand Government will restrict military style semi-automatic (MSSAs) and certain types of semi-automatics that can be readily modified into MSSAs with the use of detachable, large capacity magazines.

“In contrast, Australia essentially banned all semi-automatic firearms, both sporting configuration and military configuration. Australia also banned pump-action shotguns.

“New Zealand’s changes do not go anywhere near that far.”

What do we know about gun bans and mass shootings?

“Mass shootings are extremely rare events, even more so in New Zealand than Australia. From a research perspective, this makes them difficult to study. Because they are so uncommon in countries outside the US, this means we are not really able to draw conclusions about any relationships between legislative change and mass shootings.

“Regarding mass shootings, Australia has had 15 such incidents over the past 50 years. Our two most recent mass shootings occurred in 2014 and 2018. Most of our mass shootings (11 out of 15) involved domestic/family situations. Most – including Australia’s four public mass shootings – occurred between 1987 and 1996.

“Public mass shootings did not occur in Australia before 1987 or after 1996. It is easy to say that the 1996 laws explain the absence of public shootings post-1996. However, we have no explanation for why there were none of those incidents prior to 1987, even though the laws we had throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s were extremely lax by today’s standards. Semi-automatic firearms were widely available.”

Did Australia’s laws affect homicides more generally?

“Various studies have looked for general impacts of Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms, using a range of different statistical analysis methods. None have found evidence of a significant impact of the legislative changes on overall firearm homicide rates.

“Ultimately, firearm violence is a complex issue that merits complex discussion. It requires calm, objective, and honest dialogue about what works to reduce different forms of gun violence across different social and cultural contexts. Changing the law may sometimes be effective, and sometimes not – it depends on what type of law we are talking about, how it is implemented and enforced, and what form of violence we are trying to prevent.”

No conflict of interest declared.

Professor Alexander Gillespie, Professor of International Law, University of Waikato, comments:

“This announcement will start to address some of the loopholes in the law. It sounds like it’s a very strong step forward.

“This is an A Category and an E category ban, which includes centrefire semi-automatics. The centrefire semi-automatic was the one that did the damage in Christchurch.

“It will be good to see what additional steps are being considered with regards to other measures, such as registration of all remaining firearms.

“I think the vast majority of firearms owners will want to be fully compliant with the law, but there will be a small, tiny percentage of people who will hope to avoid the law.

“To encourage compliance, the compensation scheme needs to be fair and market-based. Lawful firearms owners have done nothing wrong and their compensation should be fair. It’s going to be very expensive.

“There’s a question on whether the Government will be trying to soak up some other firearms that are not covered by the ban, like old rifles. Best practice overseas would be to provide compensation for those firearms too. The Government should take the chance to soak up those things that are out there in the community. If you put on a financial incentive they will come back.

“You’ve got to be seeing this not just in terms of the reaction within New Zealand but the international reaction. A lot of countries are watching New Zealand right now, especially those, like the US, that are concerned with their own firearms issues. The stronger the action, the more serious Jacinda Ardern shows the Government is taking it, and she has shown she is taking it very seriously. This kind of response you only see once in a generation, if you’re lucky.”

No conflict of interest.


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