Doubts over success of firearm buybacks in New Zealand as amnesty ends

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand’s ambitious firearm amnesty ends on Friday with questions over its success, as critics say the police only managed to collect about a third of the weapons that were outlawed after the Christchurch massacre.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern banned semi-automatic weapons and launched a gun amnesty and buyback scheme earlier this year, after a March shooting in Christchurch where a suspected white supremacist gunned down 51 Muslims in two mosques.

More than 56,346 prohibited guns have been removed from circulation so far, within the range estimated by consultancy KPMG in an independent report, Police Minister Stuart Nash said in a statement.

“However police have consistently warned the problem is we just don’t know exactly how many guns are out in the community,” Nash said.

Ardern is pushing a new set of gun reforms through parliament which includes the creation of a registry to monitor every firearm legally held in New Zealand.

Nash said about 31,650 people had taken part in the amnesty so far and almost NZ$100 million ($66.1 million) had been paid in compensation to gun owners.

Almost 188,000 prohibited gun parts were also surrendered. Nash said after today gun owners would not be paid for their prohibited firearms.

“Those in breach of the law face risk of prosecution and up to five years jail, as well as the loss of their license,” he said.

Voluntary surrender of firearms would continue.

Opposition leaders and gun lobby groups called the amnesty a failure.

“Its not a number to be boasting about. It’s not successful,” Council of Licenced Firearms Owners (COLFO) spokeswoman Nicole McKee told reporters.

The council estimates 170,000 semi-automatic weapons were in circulation before the amnesty was announced.

“Despite our best efforts to encourage compliance, we know owners have been so disappointed by the settings of the ban and its poor implementation that many can’t bring themselves to comply,” McKee said in a statement.

The opposition National Party said the amnesty had collected less than a third of what police and firearm stakeholders had previously advised could be out there.

“The government made a mistake in targeting law-abiding firearms owners when they should’ve targeted the gangs who peddle misery in communities across New Zealand,” National Party spokesman Mark Mitchell said.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Stephen Coates