New Zealand announced a massive gun buyback program in the wake of a mass shooting in Christchurch, one of the country’s most populous cities. But despite a wave of praise from gun control activists across the globe, the program, a new report says, was a miserable failure that collected a mere fraction of the number of illegal weapons owned by New Zealanders.
Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern announced the “assault weapons” buyback program just days after a mass shooting at a Christchurch mosque and Islamic center that claimed 51 lives and injured 49 more, and it accompanied an “assault weapons” ban, though which guns the ban and buyback covered wasn’t totally clear.
In accordance with the program, the government set aside $110 million to buy “assault weapons” from illegal owners and last Friday was the final day gun owners could turn in their weapons to New Zealand government officials. The government was offering between 25% and 95% of retail value for each gun, depending on age, quality, and condition.
The Prime Minister’s office estimates that New Zealanders surrendered between 47,000 and 56,000 guns — a number that, on its face, seems significant, since the same government, Townhall reports, estimates the number of banned guns is somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 (the exact number is unknown because the government did not pass an accompanying gun owner registry). That means New Zealand collected at least 50% of banned guns — but that’s only if you focus on one small segment of gun owners and rely on severely outdated statistics.
“Police in New Zealand believe that there are roughly 1.2 million legally owned firearms,” Townhall reports. “But that statistic is from 2014, when the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva conducted the Small Arms Survey. For all we know, it is likely higher. Based on that number though that means there are 26 firearms for every 100 people. It really is significantly less than the United States but it is higher than Australia.”
That means that what New Zealand collected is, perhaps, a mere fraction of now-illegal guns.
“On the one hand, taking around 50,000 of these weapons out of the community is a clearly positive step,” one gun control activist told the Washington Post, according to Vice News. “On the other hand, we don’t know what proportion of all prohibited firearms this represents. If we use the lower-bound estimates, it’s a pretty good result; if we use the higher ones, it’s less so.”
“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,” one New Zealand gun control activist whined to Vice News.
They’re consoling themselves by claiming that fewer guns means fewer mass shootings overall — but it’s not clear that New Zealand residents are in danger from the kind of responsible gun owner who would turn in a banned weapon to the government — and by suggesting that this is merely the first step in a decades-long effort to rid New Zealand of weapons altogether.
A few 2020 presidential candidates have proposed that a gun buyback program, enforced by visits from law enforcement, would work well in the United States, relying on the rosy outlook the New Zealand government had over its own buyback program. They may be a bit less likely to follow through on that idea now.