Fri, 26 Apr 2019

New Zealand imposed an immediate ban on assault weapons on Thursday, taking swift action in response to the Christchurch massacre and triggering renewed calls from leading American politicians for curbs in the United States.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said assault rifles and military-style semi-automatic weapons would be banned with immediate effect, making good on a pledge to ensure that nothing like last week's slaughter of 50 people ever occurs in the Pacific nation again.

The killings by an Australian white supremacist have caused national soul-searching over New Zealand's lax gun laws.

But the tough crackdown promises to have political repercussions beyond the country's shores, including in the United States where gun control is one of the most divisive political issues.

"In short, every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned in this country," Ardern said.

She added that high-capacity magazines and devices similar to bump stocks - which allow users to fire weapons faster - will also be banned.

Proponents of gun control in the United States and around the world praised the move and denounced the US pro-gun lobby on social media, while American gun supporters defended their constitutional right to bear arms.

'Follow NZ's lead'

"This is what real action to stop gun violence looks like," Democratic US Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders tweeted.

"We must follow New Zealand's lead, take on the NRA (National Rifle Association) and ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons in the United States."

High-profile Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez contrasted the swift ban with US failure to enact even modest controls following recurring deadly shootings such as the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, in which 20 children and six school staff died.

"Sandy Hook happened 6 years ago and we can't even get the Senate to hold a vote on universal background checks," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

"Christchurch happened, and within days New Zealand acted to get weapons of war out of the consumer market. This is what leadership looks like."

No reaction was immediately seen on the Twitter feed of US President Donald Trump.

Alleged shooter Brenton Tarrant livestreamed the carnage in real-time, and the horrific scenes have heightened global concern over access to guns and the use of social media by extremists.

New Zealand's steps include interim measures to prevent any rush to purchase guns before legislation is enacted and effectively outlaw all such weapons already in private possession.

"The effect of this will mean that no one will be able to buy these weapons without a permit to procure from the police. I can assure people that there is no point in applying for such a permit," Ardern said.

For the guns already out there, Ardern announced a buyback scheme that will cost between Nz$100m and $200m (between $69m and $139m), depending on the number of weapons received and valuations.

'A good thing'

"The vast majority of New Zealanders will support this change. I feel incredibly confident of that," she said.

Simon Bridges, leader of the opposition National Party, embraced the ban, pledging to "work constructively" with the government.

"The terrorist attack in Christchurch last week has changed us as a nation," Bridges said in a statement.

"We agree that the public doesn't need access to military-style semi-automatic weapons."

Initial public reaction was positive in the still-shocked country, where hundreds of people turned out for a second day for sombre funerals for the Christchurch dead.

"It's a good thing. Why would we need to have guns like this in our houses?" Kawthar Abulaban, 54, who survived the shooting at Al Noor mosque, one of two targeted by Tarrant, told AFP.

"The semi-automatics, why would you keep that inside your house? It's not right."

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