A new firearms system focused on safety

  • Hon Stuart Nash

Tougher gun laws will begin to take effect from next week following the passage of new firearms legislation through Parliament today.

The Minister of Police says the Third Reading of the Arms Legislation Bill is an historic milestone for community safety. “We know we always have more work to do to make New Zealand a safer place. This is another significant step along the way,” said Stuart Nash.

“The new law is designed to stop firearms falling into the wrong hands. It spells out for the first time that owning a firearm is a privilege, limited to responsible licensed owners.

“The most significant change is the new firearms registry. Successive governments have failed to deliver a register since it was first recommended by Justice Sir Thomas Thorp in 1997. This will finally track how many firearms are in legal circulation, who holds them, who is selling them, and who is buying them.

“Once it’s established every licence holder will need to keep updating the registry as they buy or sell guns. They will have just over five years to register all their guns. The registry allows us to link firearms to licence holders, return stolen firearms to the legitimate owner, and hold licence holders to account for the safe storage and possession of firearms.

“The immediate changes following Royal Assent, expected next week, are:

  • Reduced length of firearms licence from 10 to 5 years for first time licence holders and those who have previously had their licence revoked or allowed it to expire;
  • Offences and penalties have been changed to better reflect the seriousness of the offending. Examples include possessing a firearm without a licence which now has a penalty of up to one year in prison or a $15,000 fine (3 months or $1,000 under old system); and selling a firearm to an unlicensed person which carries up to a two year jail sentence or $20,000 fine (3 months or $1,000 under old system);
  • 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.

Some changes will follow over a three year period. These include:

  • New rules will take effect in six months to determine who is “fit and proper” to possess firearms and who will be disqualified from holding a firearms licence.
  • The “fit and proper” person status is at the core of any application for a firearms licence. Every person applying must be responsible and trustworthy enough to earn the privilege of holding a firearms licence;
  • There will be new rules in one year governing a gun dealer’s licence, to recognise the range of dealer activities  and associated risks of theft or misuse of firearms;
  • In six months’ time anyone who sells ammunition will need a firearms licence;
  • After two years there will be new requirements for shooting clubs and ranges, which previously were not governed by law. It gives all club committees (including those of pistol clubs) the statutory ability to enforce their own rules around membership and use of ranges.

“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.

“Our first set of firearms changes banned assault rifles and military style semi-automatics. As at 3 June almost 62,000 prohibited firearms have been collected, destroyed or modified. A further 2,200 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.

“Combined with other initiatives, such as record numbers of new Police on the frontline, and a big investment in specialist organised crime investigators, we are also going hard against the most dangerous offenders who operate outside the firearms licensing system.

“Police intelligence indicates that the firearms used by criminals are most often stolen from legitimate owners, sometimes unfortunately through poor storage practices.

 “I thank everyone who helped to shape these changes which were first announced in July last year. We took the time to get it right and appreciate the contribution from the law-abiding firearms community throughout this process,” said Mr Nash.