The first of more than 250 planned gun collections across New Zealand has been held in Christchurch. The buyback scheme was introduced after March mosque attacks in which 51 Muslim worshippers were killed.
Dozens of gun owners in the New Zealand city of Christchurch handed in their firearms on Saturday in exchange for cash after the government began implementing a weapons buyback scheme.
Police said they paid more than NZ$200,000 ($134,000, €118,000) to 68 gun owners in the first couple of hours of the Saturday event in the city, located on the east coast of the South Island.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said that one of the objectives of the scheme, which went into effect last month, is to "remove the most dangerous weapons from circulation."
New Zealand lawmakers passed a gun reform law in April. The government hopes the gun buyback scheme will rid society of the rapid-fire type used in the white supremacist attack on two Christchurch mosques in March that killed 51 Muslim worshippers.
The government has planned 250 events around New Zealand as part of its gun buyback campaign. Nash said NZ$208 million ($137 million, €121 million) had been set aside to compensate owners of military-style semi-automatic (MSSA) weapons.
Mike Johnson, the regional police commander, said 903 gun owners in the Canterbury area had registered 1,415 weapons to be handed in.
"Police recognize that this is a big change for the law-abiding firearms community. We are hearing really positive feedback from people as they come through today that they are finding the process works well for them," Johnson told media.
Ray Berard, who moved to New Zealand from Canada 25 years ago, told reporters that there was no place for military-style weapons in modern society.
"My wife is working as one of the project directors on the hospital rebuild. We were there on the day of the shooting and watched the 35-odd hearses leave the next day," Berard said after handing in an assault rifle. He said that a person can "do a lot of damage to a lot of people … if you are mentally unwell and you have a weapon that can shoot 100 rounds a minute."
Gun owners have until December 20 to hand in the now-prohibited weapons, receiving up to 95% of the wholesale price if new or near-new, 70% if used and 25% for MSSAs in poor condition.
Beyond December 20, possession will be punishable by up to five years in jail.
Firearms ownership high
Police have estimated that 14,300 military-style semi-automatic guns exist in New Zealand, where in total at least 1.2 million firearms are kept.
Given its population of near 5 million, that means New Zealand has the 17th highest rate of civilian firearm ownership in the world, according to the Small Arms Survey.
The April law change also banned parts that convert firearms into MSSAs.
Opposition National Party leader Simon Bridges backed the buyback law but said the government had not put enough money aside to compensate MSSA owners.
Nicole McKee, spokesperson for the Council for Licensed Firearms Owners (COLFO), said that some owners of higher-end firearms felt the scheme had been "grossly miscalculated," adding: "A lot of them are telling us they are being ripped off."
shs/tj (AP, AFP)