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Gun law tightens

A firearms registry is the most significant aspect of a new law that makes gun ownership a privilege, not a right.

The second tranche of the Government’s reforms to toughen up firearms laws was passed by Parliament on June 18. But the Firearms Legislation Act (2020) proved a tough battle to get through as coalition politics came to the fore in election year.

The association, like other parties, did not win all its battles but remains proud to have been a key part of driving through fundamental firearms reforms that, while 30 years overdue, are nevertheless welcomed as “better late than never”.

The philosophy underpinning the legislation is implementation of a safety-focused system. Importantly, the Act’s purpose stipulates that the possession and use of arms is a privilege, and not a right, and with rights come responsibilities.

Members are well aware of the association’s investment in arguing for gun law reform, going back to the 1990 Aramoana massacre. It was also disappointed in the lack of political courage to act on the recommendations of the 1997 Thorp Report, and the 2016 select committee inquiry into the possession of illegal firearms in New Zealand.

The proliferation of illegal firearms throughout Aotearoa only worsened as the years of political inaction mounted.

The shock that finally provided the catalyst for real action was, unfortunately, the murder of 51 people at prayer in two Christchurch mosques 16 months ago. That horrific event woke many in this country to the damage that can be caused by high-powered assault rifles and the like.

The other key driver of the association’s push for reform was the fact that there is no accurate record of how many firearms there are in Aotearoa. Officers know, and the association knows, but others have taken considerable convincing of the dangers on the frontline.

The new Act includes establishment of a firearms registry, and while that may be three years away and run by a potentially costly independent entity, it is the most significant part of the law and a win for the association.

Research shows registries of all types promote positive behavioural change, and gun registries are no different. The gun owner knows they will be held to account for however many guns they register, and given the majority of illegal firearms are stolen from licensed owners, registration leads to ensuring safer storage, reporting thefts of firearms when they occur, and not importing or on-selling to unlicensed persons.

This legislation is the best chance in decades to cut off the supply of guns to criminals.

The Arms Legislation Act follows the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Act (2019), which banned assault rifles and MSSAs, and provided for the gun buyback and destruction or modification of 64,000 prohibited firearms, and 227,000 prohibited parts and large capacity magazines.

The new law includes:

  • The firearms registry.
  • Tougher penalties for serious offences such as selling a firearm to an unlicensed person, and possessing a firearm without a licence.
  • Visitors to New Zealand who are issued a licence for up to a year cannot buy a firearm to own here.
  • New rules in six months for determining who is “fit and proper” to own a gun.
  • New rules in a year governing gun dealer licences.

One development the association plans to keep an eye on is the easing of the ability for those in agricultural and similar businesses to obtain endorsements to possess prohibited firearms for pest control. Concerns relate to how strictly this will be adhered to, and whether it will become a Trojan horse for more widespread ownership of otherwise prohibited firearms.

On the passing of the law, the association was mindful that its success will depend on continued vigilance by police, gun owners and communities to mitigate the flow of guns into the hands of those who want them for criminal reasons – no easy task, but worth the effort.

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