New Zealand authorities said Saturday their country will be safer after owners handed in more than 50,000 guns during a buyback program following a ban on assault weapons. But critics say the process was flawed and many owners illegally stashed their firearms, reports the AP. The government banned the most lethal types of semi-automatic weapons less than a month after a lone gunman in March killed 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques. Police then launched a six-month program to buy the newly banned weapons from owners. The buyback ended midnight Friday, with gun collection events staying open late as police reported in a surge in last-minute returns. Provisional figures indicate 33,000 people handed in 51,000 guns, and another 5,000 guns as part of a parallel amnesty in which owners could hand over any type of firearm without questions asked but without compensation.
Owners also modified another 2,700 guns to make them legally compliant, while police said they had seized a further 1,800 guns from gangs since March. And police said they're in the process of collecting another 1,600 guns from gun dealers. Police Minister Stuart Nash told reporters Saturday that criminals would find it harder to get their hands on assault weapons because they tended to steal them from lawful owners, but those weapons would now be out of circulation. Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement acknowledged it had been “a difficult process for some people.” But Nicole McKee, a rep for Council of Licensed Firearms Owners, said owners had kept about two-thirds of banned weapons because they had lost faith in the government and hadn't been offered adequate compensation. "They never overcame being blamed by authorities for being somehow responsible for a heinous act of terrorism—something they would never do," McKee said. Police figures indicate the government paid out just over $66 million to compensate owners during the buyback.
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