A few New Zealand gun owners have begun voluntarily surrendering their firearms to local police in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings last week that left at least 50 people dead.
New Zealand police said that as of Tuesday night, 37 firearms had been surrendered to police nationwide. They did not provide a breakdown of how many people owned those guns, the types of firearms, or the districts where the guns were surrendered.
New Zealand has an estimated 1.2 million guns registered to civilians, according to the 2017 Small Arms Survey. That's about 1 gun for every 4 people. In the US, it's estimated there is more than one gun per person.
A day after the mass shooting at the two mosques in Christchurch, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that her government intends to change gun laws in the country, including a potential ban on the type of military-style semiautomatic weapons that were allegedly used by the suspect in the shootings.
Ardern also encouraged New Zealand's gun owners to surrender their weapons.
"To make our community safer, the time to act is now," Ardern said on Monday. "I want to remind people, you can surrender your gun to the police at any time. In fact I have seen reports that people are in fact already doing this. I applaud that effort, and if you are thinking about surrendering your weapon, I would encourage you to do so."
Ardern acknowledged that tightening gun laws in the country where gun ownership is common in the rural and farming communities would create "a small degree of uncertainty among some gun owners who possess guns for legitimate reasons."
She assured gun owners that the forthcoming gun law changes were not directed at them.
Ardern’s announcement set off several news reports suggesting that New Zealand’s gun owners were turning in their weapons after the attack.
Most reports cited three tweets, including that of John Hart, a farmer and Green Party member from Wairarapa, who told BuzzFeed News he surrendered his semiautomatic rifle two days after the attack.
He tweeted a photo of the form he signed to hand over his rifle to the police to be destroyed, saying, "We don't need these in our country. We have to make sure it's #NeverAgain."
Hart said that before the mosque shooting, he hadn't given much thought to the idea of not owning a semiautomatic rifle since gun ownership was common in farming communities like his and guns were viewed by most as a useful tool to control wild pigs and goats.
"New Zealand had never experienced anything like this in living memory so it was definitely a shock to see that kind of violence arrive here," Hart said. "When our prime minister announced that our gun laws need to change I realized I completely agreed with her."
Hart said it was "an easy decision" to hand over his semiautomatic as the inconvenience of not having it "was completely outweighed by the risk of another massacre."
"As long as this class of weapon exists in New Zealand, there is a chance they could be used again in this way," Hart said.
Another Kiwi — who owned a firearm for 31 years — said that after Friday's atrocity giving up his gun was "one of the easiest decisions I have ever made."
The reason he gave in the form to surrender his rifle was: "Doesn't want it."
Describing the moments before he took his gun to the local police station, he wrote on Twitter, "I cleaned it. Worked the action. Looked down the scope. Felt the stock. Smelt the mixture of steel and oil. Remembered some hunts. Put it in it’s travel case and took it down to the local Police Station. Things change."
Another person on Twitter who said she is a grandmother who had used guns since she was 9, tweeted that she requested for her family's guns to be handed in for destruction.
Pete Breidahl, a former New Zealand Army soldier, who said he had warned local police about extremism at a rifle club where the suspected shooter was a member, also said he had given up his guns.
Breidahl told Time magazine that local police had ignored his warning in 2017 about the Bruce Rifle Club outside the university town of Dunedin. On his only visit to the club, Breidahl said that he had encountered members who held "homicidal fantasies" and anti-Muslim views.
He said that he had gotten rid of his guns after Friday's terror attack.
"All I want is to go back to my horses, say goodbye to firearms and the bullshit shooting community and its drama and let the police and government sort this one out," Breidahl wrote in a Facebook post. "I don’t NEED, want or care about guns. I can happily live my life without them."
The New Zealand police requested gun owners to call their local police station or local arms officer before attempting to surrender their firearms at the station. Gun owners then have to sign a form and hand over the firearms to police.
"As the prime minister announced, anybody wanting to surrender their firearms to Police is welcome to do so," the New Zealand police said.
Trade Me, which bills itself as New Zealand's largest and most popular auction and classifieds site, announced that it was halting the sale of semiautomatic weapons on its platform following the shooting.
Hunting & Fishing New Zealand — a national chain of more than 30 stores selling hunting equipment — said it was removing all military-style assault weapons from their shelves.
"As far as we are concerned, they will never return," the company said in a Facebook post, adding that it supported any government measure to permanently ban such weapons.
"While we have sold them in the past to a small number of customers, last week’s events have forced a reconsideration that has led us to believe such weapons of war have no place in our business — or our country," the company said. "Irrespective of gun law changes now or in the future, Hunting & Fishing New Zealand stores will no longer stock military-style assault firearms of any classification or category — whether rimfire, shot shell and centrefire configuration."