COMMENT:

This week the Government passed legislation that banned all assault rifles and military style semi-automatics.

It is a very important first step in reforming our firearms legislation and ensuring that New Zealand becomes a safer place for all.

Within 24 hours of the March 15 terrorist attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced our gun laws would change.

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The terrorist killed 50 people and wounded dozens of others with lawfully acquired weapons.

I, as Minister of Police, am responsible for our gun laws. So as soon as the Prime Minister had made this statement, my team kicked into action.

Within six days of the attack, the Prime Minister announced an interim measure in the form of an "Order in Council" recategorising certain types of weapons as "E-Cat" (meaning that an owner had to have an e-endorsement on their standard firearms licence to own one) and announcing that these would be illegal to own by April 12.

Cabinet provided six ministers with "Power to Act" who looked to my office and police officials for instructions and technical advice. The ministers were the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Finance Minister Grant Robertson, Justice Minister Andrew Little, myself as Police Minister, and Defence Minister Ron Mark.

As a group of ministers, we met repeatedly throughout this period to make decisions on behalf of the Government.

The legislation went through a swift public submission process. There were more than 12,000 submissions, and thousands of other people made their views known through online petitions. One hundred and fifty public servants from police, IRD, Ministry of Primary Industries, Department of Conservation, Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice worked through the night and from early morning to read and analyse every submission.

The core themes were provided in a report back to the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee. This committee heard oral submissions from a number of key stakeholders, including the Police Association, Federated Farmers, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Gun City, Council of Licensed Firearms Owners, and Rural Women. It was enlightening and interesting and provided select committee members from all political parties with insights into different perspectives.

In the end, the Select Committee recommended a number of changes to the Bill, all of which the Government agreed to and adopted in the final draft.

I believe that where we landed strikes the right balance between removing dangerous firearms from our communities, but providing enough exemptions to ensure that collectors, hunters, farmers and licensed pest control operators have the ability to still use semi-automatics in a fit-for-purpose role.

There are good people in all of our communities who will find themselves in possession of banned firearms, parts and magazines. This is because we are changing the law, not because these people have done anything wrong.

In recognition of this, we have put in place an amnesty that will last until September 30, 2019, or later if needed.

We are also working through the details of a buy-back scheme to ensure that gun owners who now find themselves in possession of an illegal weapon will be compensated.

This is only the start.

An Arms Amendment No 2 Bill will be introduced to Parliament in June, and hopefully be passed by the end of the year. This will look at the licensing regime, explore a gun register, security requirements, the "fit-and-proper" test, and other initiatives.

This is about making New Zealand a safer country and ensuring that we do what we can to ensure that the terrible events of March 15 do not happen again.

* Stuart Nash is Napier MP and Minister of Police.