World

New Zealand gun owners return over 50,000 weapons as part of buyback program

New Zealand gun owners have handed in tens of thousands of firearms as part of an ambitious six-month weapons buyback program following a ban on certain semi-automatic rifles. 

Country banned military-style weapons only weeks after Christchurch mosque shootings in March

A gun owner hands in his firearms at Riccarton Racecourse on July 13 in Christchurch. The Christchurch event was one of hundreds of events that ran across the country after the New Zealand government banned semi-automatic weapons in April. (Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

New Zealand gun owners have handed in tens of thousands of firearms as part of an ambitious six-month weapons buyback program following a ban on certain semi-automatic rifles. 

On March 15, a lone gunman killed 51 people at two Christchurch mosques. Less than a month after the attack, the New Zealand government rushed through new laws banning military-style semi-automatic weapons in a move that was closely followed around the world.

As of midnight local time on Friday, 56,250 firearms and 194,245 parts had been handed in at more than 685 collection events held around the country, New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement said. 

More than 2,710 firearms had also been modified to make them lawful, Clement told CBC News in a statement. 

The gun buyback was "unprecedented" and has been a huge logistical exercise for police, who had three months to get the firearms buyback process in place and start communicating this to firearm owners, the deputy commissioner said. 

"Right from the beginning we have said that the prohibition of semi-automatics was not blaming law-abiding people with legitimate uses for their gun," Clement said. 

But critics say the process was flawed and many owners have illegally stashed their firearms.

Nicole McKee, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Council of Licensed Firearms Owners, said owners had kept about two-thirds of the banned weapons because they had lost faith in the government and hadn't been offered adequate compensation.

"They never overcame being blamed by authorities for being somehow responsible for a heinous act of terrorism — something they would never do," McKee said in a statement.

Police figures indicate the government paid out just over $87 million Cdn to compensate owners during the buyback.

With files from CBC's Laura McQuillan and The Associated Press