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New Zealand seeks quick ban on nearly all semi-automatic weapons

Legislation to ban almost all military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles will be introduced the first week of April, the prime minister said.
Image: Jacinda Ardern
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a news conference in Wellington on Monday.David Lintott / AFP - Getty Images

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced plans to ban nearly all military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles on Thursday, six days after a gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch.

At a dramatic news conference, Ardern lamented that previous attempts to reform the country's gun laws had fallen short and declared that "the time for the mass and easy availability of these weapons must end, and today they will."

While Ardern characterized the policy as an immediate ban, she then clarified that it would be submitted to Parliament as legislation the first week of April.

In the meantime, Ardern said, the government will sharply restrict access to "virtually all" such weapons by reclassifying them to require a police permit — which will be denied.

"I can assure people that there is no point in applying for such a permit," she said.

The government will offer generous compensation for New Zealanders to sell their weapons to the government for destruction. She said the buyback program would cost $100 million to $200 million.

Police Minister Stuart Nash said the legislation would include "narrow exemptions for legitimate business use," including use by police, the military and "professional pest control."

A government statement said the practical effect of the exemptions would be to continue to allow possession of .22 caliber semi-automatic "rimfire" firearms with magazines holding no more than 10 rounds, as well as semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns with non-detachable tubular magazines holding no more than five rounds.

Image: New Zealand shooting memorial
A student pays respect at a memorial site for the victims of mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 19.William West / AFP - Getty Images file

"To owners who have legitimate uses for their guns, I want to reiterate that the actions being announced today are not because of you and are not directed at you," Ardern said. "Our actions, on behalf of all New Zealanders, are directed at making sure this never happens again."

Already praised internationally for showing compassion and decisiveness in response to the massacre, Ardern's action on gun control again gained her plaudits.

"Sandy Hook happened 6 years ago and we can’t even get the Senate to hold a vote on universal background checks with #HR8," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet, referring to a bill requiring background checks on all gun sales.

"Christchurch happened, and within days New Zealand acted to get weapons of war out of the consumer market. This is what leadership looks like," the progressive Democrat added, pointing to a video of the prime minister.