Gun buyback well run, ongoing work needed

  • Hon Stuart Nash

The Minister of Police says an independent audit of the firearms buyback and amnesty shows it was well run but ongoing vigilance is needed to keep prohibited weapons out of the wrong hands.

“The report by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) is a vote of confidence in Police for the way they ran the process, communicated with gun owners, and paid compensation,” Stuart Nash said.

“It is heartening to learn the Auditor General has been able to provide this level of reassurance about how Police ran the buyback and amnesty. 

“New Zealand had never run such a scheme before the terror attack that took the lives of 51 worshippers and injured around 45 others. Police made extraordinary efforts to reach out to firearms owners. Officers travelled to all corners of the country, including offshore islands, to make it easy for people to comply with the law.

“We know we have more work to do to make New Zealand a safer place. We are bringing in a firearms register to better track guns in the community, and tougher penalties for gun crime.

“The changes have one objective - to prevent firearms falling into the wrong hands. We need to do all we can to restrict firearms ownership to responsible licensed people. The changes have been decades in the making. The inquiry by Justice Sir Thomas Thorp in 1997 found our firearms laws were not working. They are dangerously out of date.

“In addition to the assault rifles and MSSAs destroyed under the buyback scheme, Police have seized more than 2,400 unlawful firearms from gangs and other offenders since March last year, an average of more 40 every week.

“I have discussed the report with the OAG and Police. The Commissioner of Police is now tasked with following it through. We will have better information in future about firearms ownership and use as a result of this scheme and other gun reforms.

“Police consistently warned we didn’t have good information about exactly how many guns were in the community in the past. This is why we need a register, to enable Police to better track firearms, to keep people safe and prevent crime,” Mr Nash said. 

The OAG report found:

  • The buyback scheme was complex, challenging, and high risk, and Police managed it effectively,
  • 61,332 prohibited firearms were collected, destroyed, or modified, as at February 2020. Every single one of them was tightly traced and accounted for during the process.
  • Compensation of $102 million was paid and the final cost is forecast to be $120 million. Police took a principled and informed approach to compensation prices,
  • Police communicated well with the public, and treated gun owners with empathy and respect. There was a wide range of opportunities for people to hand in guns,
  • No one could be certain how many prohibited firearms existed before the law change. Police estimates, scrutinised by NZIER, suggested it could range from 55,000 to 240,000 firearms. NZIER advised part of the uncertainty was because guns could be easily modified with certain parts to make them a prohibited firearm,
  • There were deficiencies in how information was recorded in the past for military style semi-automatics, or E-category firearms. However Police were successful in locating them and are actively following up outstanding items,
  • The buyback scheme was supported by good systems and processes, with a robust level of oversight,
  • It cost more to administer the scheme than first anticipated. The initial estimate of $18 million grew to $35 million which Police met from internal budgets. The OAG found financial controls were appropriate and there was no wasteful spending,
  • More work is needed to process some applications. The OAG Report lists the number of outstanding applications as at February 2020, but the figures are now lower. Police are expected to keep publicly reporting on this till it is complete,
  • The scheme is important for the well-being of New Zealanders and Police should carry out a formal evaluation to look at compliance with firearms laws and improvements to public safety over time.