The gun buyback program in New Zealand is not progressing as officials had hoped. After the county’s parliament banned most semi-automatic weapons in the wake of a deadly massacre, less than one percent of the now-prohibited firearms have been turned in.
New Zealand gun owners were not required to register AR-type rifles prior to the ban, so law enforcement officers aren’t sure precisely how many “military-style semi-automatic weapons” need to be turned in. But police told New Zealand radio host Ryan Bridge that “probably hundreds of thousands” of guns are now prohibited, and the Washington Post reported this week that only 700 firearms have been voluntarily surrendered.
Given that authorities estimate there are 1.2 million to 1.5 million firearms of any type in the country, total compliance to the law passed in April likely stands somewhere between 0.7% and 0.1%.
“We urge people to stay calm,” Mike Clement, New Zealand Police’s deputy commissioner of national operations, told The Washington Post.
“We acknowledge that you’re a law-abiding citizen and through no fault of your own you now find yourself in possession of firearms that are now illegal,” he said, but he noted that once the amnesty period expires, there is no excuse for holding on to weapons.
Philippa Yasbek, co-founder of Gun Control NZ, put a finer point on it.
“These weapons are unlikely to be confiscated by police because they don’t know of their existence,” she told the Post. “These will become black-market weapons if their owners choose not to comply with the law and become criminals instead.”
Paul Clark, owner of New Zealand Ammunition, said he believes this is precisely what will happen. He told Radio New Zealand journalist Lisa Owen that many owners will attempt to hide their weapons.
If owners are not allowed to make their case through the justice system, he added, “the only alternative is revolution.”
Asked to clarify what he meant, he replied, “Literally, what I just said.”
Others seem to be waiting to see if the compensation price will rise. While the government says it has set the buyback value at 95 percent of the estimated base price for new or nearly new firearms, one gun owner claims the price is far too low.
The Post reports that gun collector, hunter, and competitive shooter David Craze is considering a lawsuit seeking proper compensation for “property confiscation.” He claims that he will only receive 30 percent of the value of the firearms he will be required to turn in under the new law and that some of these firearms he had been relying on to fund his retirement.
Officials hope the compliance rate will rise as local communities hold nearly 200 gun collection events over the next three months.
The efficacy of buyback programs to reduce crime and mass shootings is anything but certain. Dr. Samara McPhedran from Griffith University in Australia told radio host Ryan Bridge that the buyback program Australia conducted in the late 1990s and early 2000s didn’t produce the results officials had hoped for.
“The reality is, from what we’ve learned from Australia and a number of other countries, is that buyback programs don’t do what we had hoped for public health and safety outcomes,” McPhedran said. “The people that tend to hand in guns aren’t the high-risk people who tend to be involved with firearm violence.”
“In terms of delivering value for money with outcomes, buyback programs are generally not regarded as an effective way to reduce gun violence.”
Even the oft-cited drop in the frequency of Australia’s mass casualty events can’t be attributed to the buyback. McPhedran pointed out that while it’s true mass murders dropped after the government confiscated millions of firearms, these events had been just as low in the decades prior to 1986. The ten-year period that saw several high-profile mass killings was an anomaly in a country with both relatively high rates of gun ownership and low rates of violent crime.
“Headline-grabbing programs like buybacks may sound good and may make people feel good, but they’re not able to address the very complex social and economic contributors to crime and violence,” she said.
The ineffectiveness of gun control schemes isn’t stopping anti-gun advocates in New Zealand. Yasbek believes the government should pile on even more restrictive policies like a mandatory gun register, records of all ammunition sales, and the disabling of the semiautomatic firearms that remain legal.