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New Zealand's gun confiscation program criticized as a 'failure'

How successful was New Zealand's gun buyback program? It really depends on who you ask and which statistics you use.

Over the weekend, the government of New Zealand released the numbers from its months-long gun buyback scheme, launched after the country's Christchurch massacre at a mosque earlier this year.

In total, officials say they took up over 56,000 guns from over 33,000 hand-ins through buyback and amnesty programs over the past few months, according to data from New Zealand Police. Most of those were rifles now outlawed by the country's ban on so-called “military style semi-automatic firearms," which was swiftly ushered into law earlier this year. A few of the confiscated firearms were shotguns targeted by the law's provisions.

"We have taken well over 50,000 of these guns out of our community," Police Minister Stuart Nash said over the weekend. "That's got to be a good thing."

Now, that 56,000 number represents a small fraction of the total number of New Zealand's overall legally owned firearms, which was estimated to be between 1.2 and 1.5 million earlier this year. But precisely how many of those were affected by the ban is hard to discern. A briefing paper given to lawmakers in April estimated as many as 240,000 of the country's guns would be made illegal under the new law, while police in September estimated between 56,000 and 170,000, according to Stuff.co.nz.

As a result of the disparity between the figures, a spokesperson for one of the country's pro-gun groups says that the government still has a compliance issue on its hands.

"50,000 is not a number to boast about," Council of Licensed Firearms Owners spokesperson Nicole McKee told the New Zealand herald. She estimates that there were around 170,000 outlawed guns in the country at the start of the program. This would mean that the buyback program only nabbed about one-third of the hardware it was meant to get control of.

"Some of them are going to hide their firearms," McKeee continued, "some of them are protecting history, and some of them -- a good portion of them -- don't know what's going on."

McKee isn't the only person who sees the buyback program as a mistake. In a lengthy, scathing statement put out on Friday, the leader of the country's National Party, Mark Mitchell, called the policy a "failure."

“Advice from Police and independent experts KPMG pointed to the number of banned firearms in New Zealand as high as between 170,000-240,000 firearms," the statement read. "The only people who argue against this information are Government Ministers desperate to make their rushed job look like a success."

Mitchell added, "The Government made a mistake in targeting law-abiding firearms owners when they should’ve targeted the gangs who peddle misery in communities across New Zealand."

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