The second tranche of gun laws passed through Parliament yesterday (18 June 2020) with the support of Labour, New Zealand First, and the Greens.
The most significant change is the new firearms registry, which will track the number of firearms in legal circulation, who holds them, and who is selling/buying them. The registry was first recommended by Justice Sir Thomas Thorp in 1997.
Once established, all license holders will need to keep updating the registry as they buy or sell guns. They will have just over five years to do so.
Calling it a historic milestone for community safety, minister of police Stuart Nash, said, “We know we always have more work to do to make New Zealand a safer place. This is another significant step along the way.”
Some of the other immediate changes following Royal Assent are:
- Reduced length of firearm license to five years for first-time license holders and those who have previously had their license revoked or allowed it to expire
- Offences and penalties changed to better reflect the seriousness of the offending
- Further high-risk firearms are prohibited, including short (pistol-length) semi-automatic rifles. There are new requirements for lawful possession of a pistol carbine conversion kit, which converts a pistol into a shoulder-fired firearm
- Endorsements for pest control now have a shorter duration and will need to be renewed before the firearms licence expires
- More people involved in agricultural and similar businesses can obtain endorsements to possess prohibited firearms where it can be clearly demonstrated these are needed for pest control purposes
- Those who come to New Zealand who are issued a licence for up to a year will no longer be able to purchase and take ownership of a firearm in New Zealand
- A Ministerial Arms Advisory group will be established to ensure there is ongoing support and advice on firearms matters
New rules will also take effect in six months to determine who is “fit and proper” to posses firearms, with “fit and proper” being at the core of any application. There will also be new rules in a year governing a gun dealer’s license to recognise the range of dealer activities and associated risks of thefts or misuse of firearms. Other changes will see the requirement of a firearms license for anyone who sells ammunition and new requirements for shooting clubs and ranges, which were not governed by law.
“The 15th of March 2019 is a devastating date in our history. But it does not define us. What defines us is the actions we took to stop such a terror attack happening again,” Nash said.
“Our first set of firearms changes banned assault rifles and military-style semi-automatics. As [of] 3 June, almost 62,000 prohibited firearms have been collected, destroyed or modified. A further 2200 have been collected from dealer stock. We have also destroyed more than 227,500 prohibited parts and large-capacity magazines.
“We need to ensure that every part of our risk-management system – from licensing processes, to security requirements, and the firearms themselves – is robust. We have achieved what others could not while enabling continued safe use of firearms for work, hunting, and recreation.”
Long overdue bill
The New Zealand Police Association welcomed the passing of the Arms Legislation Bill and said some of the reforms were “at least 30 years due.”
“The establishment of a firearms registry, long advocated by the association, will begin to address glaring inadequacies in our gun laws,” said Association president Chris Cahill.
“Some debate has focused on the use of this bill when criminals won’t register their illegal guns and they certainly didn’t hand them in when required to last year.
“What we do know is registries of all types promote behavioural change amongst owners because they know they are going to be held to account for the item they register. That extends to gun owners and given that 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.”
More rules on people who already follow them: National
National’s police spokesperson Brett Hudson said the government’s firearms reforms will add more rules and regulations and costs on law-abiding firearm owners and “does little to address genuine criminal activity and gangs.”
“Evidence from Australia and local reports of recent incidents involving firearms show criminals and gang members generally don’t hold firearms licences.
“The government should have included National’s Firearms Prohibition Orders Bill, which would give Police the powers to take illegal firearms off gang members and would have actually made New Zealand safer.”
He added that the reforms were a “missed opportunity to permit legitimate sport shooting disciplines and to put in place fit for purpose pest control exemptions.”
ACT leader David Seymour said the Arms Legislation Bill continues to “blame law-abiding firearm owners for the actions of a single foreigner and the mistakes of police.”
He added that a firearms registry will be “costly and inaccurate” and that the bill “imposes new red tape on clubs and ranges.”
COLFO (Council of Licensed Firearms Owners) spokesperson Nicole McKee said the law “punished firearm owners.”
“The licence rules worked, but it appears that police didn’t apply them correctly to the Christchurch shooter. The new rules will only be as good as the people applying them,” she said.
“Rather than wait for information on what led to a tragic event and make recommendations, the government and police have lashed out at a group of people they had repeatedly certified as trustworthy and of good character.”
She added that the new law does not “have a single clause” that will people feel safer and COLFO intends to work with police to make their implementation more effective.
However, McKee said that some “last-minute” changes to the Bill were looking positive, including delaying the start of the firearms registry until 2023 and setting up an independent authority to administer the Arms Act.