New Zealand lawmakers give final okay to tougher gun laws

SYDNEY • New Zealand lawmakers have almost unanimously passed sweeping gun reforms, paving the way for a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons to enter into force as soon as tomorrow.

Lawmakers passed the legislation on final reading, less than a month after a gunman entered two mosques in Christchurch killing 50 people.

During the debate yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (picture) told parliamentarians she “vividly” recalled the moment after the massacre when she, without consulting widely, decided the government had to act.

Ardern, her voice filled with emotion, said it was during a briefing with the police commissioner when she was told about the “nature of the attack”, the weapons used and how they were notified, but had been obtained legally.

“I could not fathom how weapons that could cause such destruction and large-scale death could have been obtained legally in this country. I could not fathom that,” she told lawmakers.

She could not, she said, face the public or “the victims that had been left behind from this terror attack and tell them hand-on-heart that our system and our laws allow these guns to be available and that was okay. Because it was not”.

The new rules amend permissive 1983 gun laws that had the subject of multiple reform attempts.

The sole holdout against the legislation was the ACT Party, which has a single seat in the 120-seat Parliament.

The new rules are aimed at removing semi-automatic firearms from circulation through a buy-back scheme, prohibition and harsh prison sentences. A hand-in amnesty will be in place until Sept 30, 2019, but perpetrators will face between two and 10 years in jail for breaking the laws.

The new laws also prohibit “semi-automatic firearms, magazines and parts that can be used to assemble prohibited firearms”.

The law will now need royal approval, in practice a rubber stamp, which is expected to take place today, paving the way for the rules to enter into force the next day.

The bill was first introduced on April 1. Its passage in barely 10 days has surprised even the most ardent gun control advocates.

The government has also said it will review laws dealing with hate speech. Ardern has also called for action by social media giants after the alleged gunman livestreamed the atrocity online.

She has also ordered a judicial inquiry into whether intelligence services could have prevented the attack. — AFP