Flowers and signs are seen at a memorial as a tribute to victims of the mosque attacks, near a police line outside Masjid Al Noor in Christchurch on March 16 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Flowers and signs are seen at a memorial as a tribute to victims of the mosque attacks, near a police line outside Masjid Al Noor in Christchurch on March 16 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Sydney — New Zealand MPs have almost unanimously passed sweeping gun reforms, paving the way for a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons to enter into force as soon as Friday.

MPs passed the legislation on final reading, less than a month after a gunman entered two mosques in Christchurch killing 50 people.

During the debate on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told parliamentarians she “vividly” recalled the moment after the massacre when she, without consulting widely, decided the government had to act.

Ardern, her voice filled with emotion, said it was during a briefing with the police commissioner when she was told about the “nature of the attack”, the weapons used and how they were notified but had been obtained legally.

“I could not fathom how weapons that could cause such destruction, and large-scale death could have been obtained legally in this country. I could not fathom that,” she said .

She could not, she said, face the public or “the victims that had been left behind from this terror attack and tell them hand-on-heart that our system and our laws allow these guns to be available and that was okay. Because it was not”.

The new rules amend permissive 1983 gun laws that had the subject of multiple reform attempts. The sole holdout against the legislation was the ACT Party, which has a single seat in the 120-seat parliament.

The new rules are aimed at removing semi-automatic firearms from circulation through a buy-back scheme, prohibition and harsh prison sentences.

A hand-in amnesty will be in place until September 30 2019, but perpetrators will face between two and 10  years in jail for breaking the laws.

The new laws also prohibit “semi-automatic firearms, magazines, and parts that can be used to assemble prohibited firearms”.

The law will now need royal approval, in practice a rubber stamp, which is expected to take place on Thursday, paving the way for the rules to enter into force the next day.

The bill was first introduced on April 1. Its passage in barely 10 days has surprised even the most ardent gun control advocates.

AFP