A firearms register, a tighter licensing system for gun owners, and a new emphasis on safety and personal responsibility is the focus of the new firearms legislation that was announced on 22 July.
In a press conference in the Parliament, prime minister Jacinda Ardern and police minister Stuart Nash outlined the details of the second set of law changes following the terror attack on 15 March.
“In April, we acted to take the most dangerous weapons out of circulation by prohibiting assault rifles and military-style semi-automatics,” the prime minister said.
She added that the new set of reforms has been designed to stop the remaining weapons falling into the wrong hands. The next Arms Amendment Bill will establish a register of firearms and license holders to be rolled out over five years, tighten the rules to get and keep a firearms license, prohibit visitors to New Zealand from buying a gun, and provide for new controls on firearms advertising (see following page for more details).
The prime minister said that the terror attacks on 15 March highlighted the flaws in the country’s licensing system.
“Our gun laws date from 1983 and are dangerously out date. Since then, the firearms manufacturing industry and the ability to buy and sell online have markedly changed. Successive governments have known since the Thorp review of 1997 that our gun laws were too weak. Further attempts to change the system in 2005 and 2016 both failed.
“The changes announced today (22 July) have been decades in the making. It is now up to this Parliament to deliver in the interests of public and personal safety.”
She said that there is a “new normal” around firearms and “it is a change of mindset” with recreational hunters and gun owners voluntarily giving up the now-prohibited firearms.
“The most dangerous weapons are being taken out of circulation ultimately because the wider community thinks it is the right thing to do to make each other safer.”
A PRIVILEGE, NOT A RIGHT
Police minister Stuart Nash said owning a gun “is a privilege, not a right.”
He added, “The proposed changes will spell out the duties and obligations that come with that privilege. The vast majority of our gun owners are law abiding and responsible. The law changes will reinforce the positive behaviour that is required of all gun owners.
“Under the current law, we do not know exactly how many guns are in circulation, who owns them, who is selling them, who is buying them, or how securely they are stored against the risk of theft or misuse.”
The minister said that police had few options of intervening when they see “concerning behaviour.”
“Revoking a firearms licence can only happen for the most serious cases and can take weeks, during which time, the guns can be given away or disappear without a trace.”
Outside the Parliament, welcoming the government’s introduction of new firearms offences were organisations such as The Police Association. President Chris Cahill said that they have been asking for a register of all firearms for years.
“Not having any idea of how many guns are in circulation in New Zealand, who has them, and whether they are securely stored, adds a real pressure to the work of our members,” he said.
“The value of a firearms register in the case of the Christchurch shootings would have been in the red flag raised by a licensed individual buying multiple firearms in a short period of time, as was the case with the accused shooter.”
The legislation was being drafted when the newspaper was going to print and is due for introduction in late August.
“It will spend three months at select committee for public feedback,” Nash said. “In the meantime, I encourage all interested people to begin writing submissions so they can take part in the process.”
However, not all organisations shared the government’s sentiments on the new reforms. NZ Game Animal Council—a statutory organisation responsible for the sustainable management of game animals and hunting for recreation, commerce, and conservation—says the government’s second round of firearm reforms has hunters concerned that “they will be burdened with onerous and unnecessary compliance and costs”.
“The measure announced yesterday (22 July), including the establishment of a firearms register, a shortened license renewal period, and a general increase in compliance, require proper analysis, as they could prove unfair for legitimate firearms owners,” Game Animal Council chair Don Hammon said.
“There is no reason for law-abiding hunters to be unreasonably inconvenienced by legislative changes of dubious benefit and that do not make New Zealand safer.
“We wait to be convinced of the value of some of these measures and whether they will fix the fundamental issue of firearms falling into the wrong hands.”
He added that the Game Animal Council would be reviewing the legislation and what it will mean for hunters once it is available in August.
“I also urge the Government to hold a full-length consultation process once the Bill reaches select committee,” Hammond said. “Hunters, like all New Zealanders deserve the opportunity to have their say on legislative proposals that may fundamentally impact their lives.”
The Game Animal Council added that they did not oppose the first tranche of firearms reform that sought to restrict the availability of MSSAs, as those weapons are largely unsuitable for recreational large game animal hunting.
THINGS TO KNOW
The next Arms Amendment Bill will:
Establish a register of firearms and licence holders to be rolled out over five years
Tighten the rules to get and keep a firearms licence
Tighten the rules for gun dealers to get and keep a licence
Require licences to be renewed every five years
Introduce a new system of warning flags so police can intervene and seek improvement if they have concerns about a licence holder’s behaviour
Prohibit visitors to New Zealand from buying a gun
Establish a licensing system for shooting clubs and ranges for the first time
Set up a new formal group to give independent firearms advice to Police, which will include people from within and outside the gun-owning community
Provide for new controls on firearms advertising
Require a licence to buy magazines, parts and ammunition
Increase penalties and introduce new offences
Enshrine in law that owning a firearm is a privilege and comes with an obligation to demonstrate a high level of safety and responsibility
In the press conference, Stuart Nash stated that as of 21 July 2019, 2100 people had turned up to more than 20 collection events, and more than 3200 firearms and 7800 parts had been handed in. Compensation payments worth more than $6.1 million had been processed.
The first gun buy-back event was held in Christchurch (read more on page 3) with more being organised around the country during the amnesty (until 20 December 2019).
A list of collection events can be found online on police.govt.nz.