Gun buyback: 56,000 firearms handed in, $102 million paid out

The Government's six-month gun buyback and amnesty scheme has seen more than 56,000 firearms removed from circulation.

The official buyback and amnesty period ended on Friday, having been put into place as part of the Government's extensive gun reform programme following the March 15 terror attacks. Military-style semi-automatic weapons were made illegal as part of that reform.

According to police deputy commissioner Mike Clement, who has been in charge of the scheme, there were 33,000 hand-ins resulting in 56,250 firearms collected as well as 194,245 parts. A further 2717 firearms were modified to make them legal while 363 firearms were so unique they must go through an independent valuation process to determine compensation.

About 1600 firearms still need to be collected from the 43 dealers who have run hand-in programmes on top of the 685 collection points organised by police across the country.

Police have paid out about $102 million to gun owners as part of the buyback process. 

"Police welcome any opportunity to reduce harm in our communities and ultimately, the more than 30,000 hand-ins indicate that firearms owners understood the why - that we hope to never again see the kind of attack we saw in Christchurch," said Clement.

"The gun buy-back is unprecedented and has been a huge logistical exercise for Police which has taken outstanding commitment by our districts who have gone the extra mile to work with firearms owners."

Clement acknowledged there had been speculation about how many guns were owned by licensed firearm owners. Some groups, like the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners (COLFO), estimated there were more than 170,000 prohibited firearms in New Zealand - a number dismissed by Police Minister Stuart Nash.

The deputy commissioner said police estimate there are 1.2 million firearms in possession of 248,000 licensed firearms owners. However, due to a lack of a register, police can't be exact.

"We cannot be precise. No one can be precise. It is simply not possible to have a count that is accurate," Clement said.

In regard to E-category firearms, including the now prohibited military-style semi-automatics, a register is available, showing 5060 people own 15,037 firearms. Of those, 9532 were handed in during the amnesty period, 4277 are being processed, while 1000 are outstanding due to technical issues. Clement said police are following up with those owners. 

"For anyone that has refused to abide by the law, my advice to you is to go to a station and hand in your firearm under amnesty now," said Clement.

"You will not receive any compensation but this is the best thing you can do if you do not want to face the other option - potential prosecution and the loss of your licence."

While Minister Nash believes New Zealand is now a safer country after the scheme, he has a strong message for those still holding illegal guns, saying: "You are now a criminal".

"Police are now preparing to follow up firearms licence holders who are known to still hold prohibited guns. My strong advice to these people is to voluntarily surrender them or face risk of prosecution, loss of licence and firearms, and five years jail.

"Police will also keep up their focus on gangs and other criminals who unlawfully hold firearms. Around 1800 firearms have been seized from gangs and other offenders since March, during search warrants, vehicle stops, and callouts to family harm incidents.

"If anyone has concerns about someone with a banned firearm, they can alert Police by calling ten-five (105) or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111"

The second tranche of gun reform legislation proposed by the Government will seek to introduce a gun register.