The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New Zealand passes law banning most semiautomatic weapons, less than a month after mosque massacres 

Flowers for the victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks are placed at the base of the Richard Seddon statue outside the New Zealand Parliament Buildings in Wellington, New Zealand, on March 22. (Mark Coote/Bloomberg News)

New Zealand’s Parliament voted almost unanimously Wednesday for a law that bans most semiautomatic weapons, less than a month after 50 people were killed by a white nationalist-inspired gunman who opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch. 

All of Parliament’s 120 lawmakers except one voted in favor of the gun reforms, which make permanent the temporary restrictions imposed last month on military-style semiautomatic weapons, assault rifles and accompanying parts such as magazines and ammunition for these weapons. Gun owners will have until the end of September to hand them in through a buyback program, after which point amnesty will end. 

The swift action — first taken just days after the worst attacks in New Zealand’s modern history and enacted into law weeks later — now makes the United States even more of an outlier with regard to large-capacity semiautomatic weapons. The United States has not taken such action, even in the wake of deadly attacks by gunmen using such weapons, including in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, Las Vegas in 2017 and Parkland, Fla., last year. 

New Zealand’s Parliament voted almost unanimously for a law that bans most semiautomatic weapons. Here’s a look at the new law. (Video: William Neff/The Washington Post)

“I can recall very vividly the moment I knew that we would need to be here, doing what we are doing right now,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She described how the police commissioner had informed her following the March 15 Christchurch attacks on two mosques that the weapons used were bought legally and modified.

“I could not fathom how weapons that could cause such destruction and large-scale death could have been obtained legally in this country,” she said.  

“We are ultimately here because 50 people died, and they do not have a voice,” Ardern added. 

Semiautomatic rifles such as the AR-15 used by the gunman in the attacks will now be banned. Ardern said she took into account concerns from New Zealand’s farmers and large rural community, who live among rolling hills and on farmland across the country’s two islands.

An exception will be made for small-caliber rifles that hold 10 rounds and pump-action shotguns holding five or fewer shells. Regular bolt-action hunting rifles will be unaffected.

Gun owners in New Zealand brace for big changes to their right to carry

The New Zealand government consulted with the country’s hunting and rural communities, and they overwhelmingly said that military-style weapons were not necessary. 

“They have told us that they, by and large . . . with very few exceptions, support what we are doing here today,” Ardern said in her speech to Parliament on the gun reforms. “This is not a house here that is demonizing legitimate use of firearms in New Zealand, quite to the contrary.” 

In the wake of the attacks and in anticipation of the changes, some gun owners had already started handing their weapons in to police. Many said they were doing so in solidarity with the victims, including the 50 additional worshipers who were injured in the mosque attacks. Others, according to gun store owners, had started stockpiling these firearms before the ban went into effect. 

Experts studying New Zealand gun laws say such changes had been recommended to Parliament several times but always met with opposition. Four inquiries on gun laws have been undertaken by the New Zealand government in recent years, including one after a 1990 mass shooting that killed 13. 

This time, Parliament passed the measures in almost record time, similar to action taken in Australia after a 1996 massacre in Port Arthur, Tasmania, in which 35 people were fatally shot. 

Ardern noted that some of the more than 13,000 people who submitted their comments to the government on the gun bill said that Parliament was rushing through the changes. She disagreed with their comments andreferred to the decision of John Howard, Australia’s prime minister at the time of the Port Arthur attack.

“My view is that an argument about process is an argument to do nothing,” she said.

A 28-year old Australian, Brenton Tarrant, faces 50 counts of murder and 39 counts of attempted murder in the Christchurch shootings. Officials say more charges are likely. 

Suspect in New Zealand mosque attacks appears in court via video

Thousands of New Zealanders join Muslims in Friday prayers a week after mass shooting

Analysis | New Zealand just banned military-style firearms. Here’s why the U.S. can’t.

Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world

Like Washington Post World on Facebook and stay updated on foreign news