Government closes potential export loophole in gun buyback scheme

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has announced new restrictions on exporting semi-automatic firearms, magazines and parts.

The new restrictions close a potential loophole in the Government's ban whereby gun owners could have snubbed the buyback scheme and instead sold their now-illegal firearms to overseas buyers for more money.

"These changes are essential to ensure that weapons that are prohibited in New Zealand are not exported to other countries where they would pose a similar risk," Peters, the Disarmament and Arms Control Minister, said on Friday. 

The New Zealand First leader said that from Friday, the criteria for the export of strategic goods will change under the Customs and Excise Act 2018 under which export controls are legislated.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), which is responsible for New Zealand's export control regime for weapons, is likely to decline permits for the export of prohibited semi-automatic firearms, magazines and parts except in certain limited circumstances."

Peters said MFAT would also "no longer be permissible for weapons that are banned [in New Zealand] to be imported for the purpose of re-export".

Export applications will be considered against the assessment criteria, which include the risk that the exported item could be used in human rights abuses, undermine peace and security, or be prejudicial to New Zealand's international relations.

AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Photo credit: Getty

Restrictions on exports already existed with permits needed to be granted for any export of firearms - but now it will be tighter. Peters said there is an exemption for dealers to export firearms back to suppliers during the amnesty period which ends September 30. 

"There will be transitional arrangements to align with the new legislation, including for dealers seeking to return stock to suppliers, items that are stuck at the border because they are now prohibited, personal transfers by people leaving the country, and certain items traded by existing manufacturers and suppliers."

After more than 13,000 submissions, the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee supported the Government's gun law reforms announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the wake of the March 15 Christchurch terror attack.

The Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill went to its third reading on Wednesday night before officially coming into force.

Military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles have been banned, but the select committee recommended semi-automatic firearms be allowed for pest control on farms under some circumstances. 

The Government announced a buyback scheme to compensate gun owners for their now-illegal firearms. The original estimate for the cost of the buyback was $100 to $200 million - but that's just an estimate as there is no official number of firearms in New Zealand.

The Government is pledging to pay for parts, magazines and ammunition, as well as the banned firearms they're used with. Police Minister Stuart Nash said on Wednesday that even if the buyback costs $1 billion, he'll do it.

Those who obtained their firearms illegally won't be getting any money, but they are covered by the amnesty. They can still hand back their guns without fear of prosecution.