John Hart with the semi-automatic rifle he handed to the police in response to the mosque attacks in Christchurch. PHOTO/STEVE RENDLE

PAM GRAHAM
pam.graham@age.co.nz

Wairarapa farmer and Fab Lab co-founder John Hart on Monday handed in his semi-automatic rifle to police. He bought it to cull goats but wants it destroyed so it can never be used against people.

The Green Party candidate for the past two elections says anyone can hand a gun in to police at any time. He went to the station to get the required forms, then surrendered the 7.62mm hunting rifle.

It was his way of responding to the massacres at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday in which 50 people died and a similar number were injured.

“I feel quite strongly now that I would rather see it destroyed by police and then I know it is out of circulation forever,” he said.

“It’s a civilian gun, not a military-style automatic, but it is a larger calibre and will definitely come under [an expected] ban.”

He had owned the gun for about a decade and did not use it often for hunting.

“Initially it was purchased in case we had goats – to be used for any culling,” he said.

“The reason I am taking mine in is I don’t want it to be bought back and reused and sold before the ban. I have owned it since new and I know that it has never been involved in taking a [human] life.”

He said he was “OK with us banning semi-automatics across the board with exceptions for pest-control and that sort of thing”.

He thought Wairarapa would have “at least our fair share if not more” of semi-automatic guns.

“We are a pretty strong rural area and there are lots of recreational shooters as much as hunters,” he said. “The trouble is we don’t know how many each individual person has.

“We can already track all the cows in the country, you can’t tell me we can’t track a few hundred thousand guns.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday said Cabinet had made decisions in principle about gun law reform but it would take a few days to work through the detail before announcing it.

She said the detail would be announced before cabinet next Monday. A buyback was among details being worked through.

In the meantime she encouraged people with guns they were concerned about to surrender them to police, which they could do at any time.

Green Party members were at Monday’s cabinet meeting and she said the government was united in its decisions.

“Within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism we will have announced moves which I believe will make our community safer,” she said.

A range of weaknesses in New Zealand’s gun laws had been exposed and the time to act was now, she said.

She said there would be a short period of uncertainly for gun owners and she said the work on tightening laws was not directed at the rural community.

She applauded the people who were surrendering guns to police.

“If you are thinking about surrendering your weapon, I would encourage you to do so”.

Cabinet also decided to hold an inquiry into the circumstances leading up to the shooting and detail on that is also being worked through.

NZ First leader Winston Peters said; “After what occurred on the 15th of March our world changed forever and so will some of our laws”.

Police have called for a register of military-style weapons so they can be tracked, as happened in Australia after 35 people were gunned down at Port Arthur in Tasmania in 1996.

Within 12 months, Australia introduced a shooters’ licensing scheme, created a gun registration programme, and banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons.

Former National Party of Australia leader Tim Fischer was deputy prime minister at the time and he told Newstalk ZB New Zealand needed to change its gun laws as well.

“Since Port Arthur, in 1996, if you put the index at 10 or more [deaths], there has never been one gun massacre in Australia,” he said. “There have been no mass shootings, as broadly defined, since Port Arthur.

“The advantage New Zealand has is, of course, a unitary system of government and one parliament and I think you have the chance to respond sensibly.”

The quickness to which New Zealand responds is also being seen as a contrast to the United States where gun laws have not been changed in the wake of mass shootings.