New national gun registry under fire

New legislation will soon require every firearms-licence holder in New Zealand to formally register every gun in their possession.

From June 24, owners will have 30 days to register new guns, and five years to register non-specialised firearms they owned prior to June 24.

Gun retailers already keep item-to-individual sales records which police may access.

Te Tari Pureke Firearms Safety Authority said the new register would make the country safer, but the Council of Licensed Firearm Owners (Colfo) expressed some doubt.

New Zealand Police Association president Chris Cahill said on TVNZ’s Breakfast Showlast month ‘‘the majority of criminals get their guns from unscrupulous firearms owners who buy them on their behalf, and on-sell them’’.

In disputing this, Colfo cited a 2019 Official Information Act response from police stating that of the 1263 illegal firearms seized that year, only 559 retained traceable serial numbers, indicating a lack of hard evidence to back Mr Cahill’s claim.

‘‘Police’s own records show [licensed owners] accounted for less than 10% of firearms seized from criminal hands [and] the majority had serial numbers removed,’’ Colfo spokesman Hugh Devereux-Mack said.

‘‘[This] proves this register will do nothing to prevent firearms moving from the legal ‘fleet’ to the black market . . . since when they’re seized there’s no way of tracking where they came from.

‘‘The purpose of [the registry] is to make New Zealanders feel safe after the Christchurch terror attack — which was a failure of police.

‘‘The vast majority of New Zealanders are not clued up on firearms law and so they’re easily led into believing this will make them safe.

‘‘Licenced firearms owners have essentially been scapegoated for police errors that led to the Christchurch terror attack.’’

He acknowledged rising administrative costs combined with the closure of gun clubs made it more difficult for legal shooters to practise their hobby or hunt food.

‘‘Colfo does not believe it is the intentional design to cut down the number of privately held firearms, however, that is likely to be a consequence.

‘‘[Meanwhile] illegally held firearms will never appear on a register.

‘‘I am concerned that the Government continues to say that all the laws and protections they brought in would make us safer, yet the actual crime rate is proving just the opposite.’’

Colfo expected and encouraged licensed owners to abide by all firearms laws.

Clutha farmer Stuart Murray was a Mountain Safety Council firearms licensing instructor for 40 years and remains a figure in hunting and competitive shooting organisations.

‘‘I don’t see how a registry protects our firearms from theft,’’ he said.

‘‘How will it prevent violent crime?

‘‘In theory it sounds like a wonderful scheme but in practice it may prove to be a very expensive logistical nightmare.

‘‘We’ve already had a registry for restricted firearms for over 40 years and it’s proven to be riddled with errors.

‘‘Look at the Canadian experience — they tried a full registration system around 12 years ago and after a number of years they dumped it at a cost of over $2 billion.

‘‘Licenced firearms owners are already among the most vetted and regulated people in the country.

‘‘In making it harder to comply and adding significant costs to legitimate users, you can’t help but get the feeling they certainly want to limit the numbers of firearms in the country.’’