Tighter gun laws for the safety of all
The Government is taking steps to ensure gun ownership is restricted to responsible users, and to stop the flow of guns into the black market as legislation is introduced to Parliament today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
“We know that the majority of gun crime is committed by people without a licence, with firearms that have either been stolen or traded illegally.
“Owning a firearm is a privilege not a right; that means we need to do all we can to ensure that only honest, law-abiding citizens are able to obtain firearms licences and use firearms,” Jacinda Ardern says.
“In April, we took action to remove military style semi-automatics from our communities. Now we are taking the next step; to prevent firearms from reaching the hands of criminals.
“Our focus since 15 March has been on ensuring that our communities are as protected as they can be from the potential for another attack like the horrific one we witnessed in Christchurch.
“That attack exposed weaknesses in legislation which we have the power to fix. We would not be a responsible Government if we didn’t address them.
“The Bill includes a register to track firearms and new offences and penalties that can be applied extraterritorially for illegal manufacture, trafficking, and for falsifying, removing, or altering markings – which are a new requirement under the Firearms Protocol.”
“For example, every person who is currently found guilty of selling or supplying a firearm to an unlicensed person is liable for a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 months or a fine of $1,000. This Bill will increase those penalties to 2 years and $20,000 respectively.
“Some of the changes in this bill will improve our ability to monitor firearms lawfully entering and exiting the country and enhance our ability to combat organised crime. New Zealand will accede to the United Nations Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition (the Firearms Protocol).
Police Minister Stuart Nash says the Arms Act came into force in 1983 and is no longer fit for purpose.
“It’s 2019, we need to ensure Police have the tools and legislation behind them that they need to keep our communities safe,” Police Minister Stuart Nash said.
“I am absolutely committed to that. There are a number of significant changes within this bill and we need every one of them.
“Around 18,204 firearms offences have been committed in the four calendar years 2015-2018. These offences range from homicides, to robbery, intimidation, failing to comply with the Arms Act licensing regime, carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle.
“We must take steps to tighten our gun laws to ensure the safety of all New Zealanders.
“We also want to make sure we are getting the balance right, so the bill will establish a Commissioner’s Firearms Advisory Group to support achieving the objectives of the Arms Act.”
The group will include members of both the firearms community and non-firearms owning community.
“We know it’s important we hear from all New Zealanders. The prevalence and use of firearms within our communities impacts on every person in the community, whether they use firearms or not.
“I also encourage people to make submissions through the select committee process, we want to hear your voice.
“Parliament will review the Bill five years after it has been enacted so we can be sure it is working how we intend it to.
“The aim of these changes is to keep our communities safe by strengthening the framework for the safe use and control of firearms,” Stuart Nash said.
The Bill includes:
- The creation of a firearms registry to enable the monitoring and tracking of every firearm legally held in New Zealand.
- Changing the length of the time of issue for a firearms licence from 10 years to five years.
- The creation of a licensing regime for shooting clubs and ranges.
- A requirement to be a licence holder in order to purchase and hold firearm parts, magazines, and ammunition.
- Strengthening and tightening the rules in the licensing regimes for individuals and dealers.
- Conditions on firearms licences and changes to endorsements.
- Updated and new offences and penalties.
- Provisions to enable health practitioners to notify Police if they have concerns about a licence firearms owner’s health or wellbeing.
- New Mechanisms and options for dealing with firearm licence holders who breach conditions of the Act or Regulations.
- Strengthening regulatory oversight on importation and sales.
- Changes to the cost recovery regime that will enable fees to be set out in regulations for a range of regulatory services.
The Arms Legislation Bill will have its first reading on Tuesday 24 September.
- How will the registry work?
It will have some similarities with the motor vehicle register operated by the NZ Transport Agency.
The new firearms registry will hold the licence holder’s full name, date of birth, and address. It will hold details of their licence number and any endorsements.
It will also hold details of firearms, restricted weapons and prohibited magazines including identifying markings and information on storage.
It will record all transfers, sales, purchases, imports, and exports of firearms and other items. Private sales will still be permitted.
The registry will be an online self-service model in order to make compliance easy for firearms owners and minimise the administrative burden for Police. A paper-based option will continue for people without easy access to computers or good connectivity, such as those in remote communities.
Firearms owners will be shifted onto the register over five years as they engage with the licencing system, such as when renewing their licence or buying or selling a firearm. If an existing licence holder does none of these processes in the five-year period, they will still be required to enter information in the registry by the end of the five-year period.
The registry is expected to be operational within two years of enactment of the Act and can go live earlier under Order in Council. Information on the registry will be protected by the Privacy Act.
- What changes are in store for individual licence holders?
The current ten year licence will be replaced by a five year licence.
A stronger Police vetting system will ensure only those people who are genuinely fit and proper can own a firearm.
They must demonstrate knowledge and skills about safe use of a firearm and about their legal obligations, and behave in a way that ensures personal and public safety.
They will be disqualified from holding a firearms licence if in the previous ten years they have convictions, or been released from custody for serious crimes such as violence; misuse of drugs; firearms offences; or having a protection order in force against them.
Police will have a wider range of tools to intervene using a range of compliance and enforcement measures proportionate to the seriousness of the issue. They could issue Improvement Notices requiring licence holders to take remedial steps, or issue a temporary suspension notice. Police will also be able to immediately seize guns when suspending a licence and considering a formal revocation process.
Police will be able to inspect storage and security arrangements on an ongoing basis as long as it is at a reasonable time and they give notice.
Pest controllers who have an exemption which allows them to use newly-prohibited weapons will be required to renew that endorsement every two years.
A licence will be required to purchase non-prohibited firearms magazines, parts and ammunition.
Visitors to New Zealand, such as those on hunting trips, may be issued a short-term firearms licence but will not be able to buy a gun for possession in New Zealand. They may bring their own and register it, or lease one. The strengthening of the vetting system will also apply to applicants who are visitors.
- How will dealers be affected?
The system of dealer’s licences will be tightened by broadening the range of activities for which a dealer licence will be required.
A dealer will have to meet an expanded test for being fit and proper to hold a dealer’s licence to encompass their character and reputation and that they have sound technical capability.
Examples include sound knowledge of firearms, licences and the legal obligations that attach to them; scrupulous financial dealings and record-keeping systems; and having suitable staff.
The definition of a dealer will cover a wider range of circumstances. It will include someone who buys, sells, manufactures, repairs, modifies, displays or otherwise carries out commercial transactions involving a class of arms items.
- What are the new warning flags being built into the licensing system?
A new system of warning flags may show a person may not be a fit and proper person to hold a firearms licence.
This reinforces that gun owners must act responsibly and in the interests of personal and public safety.
Behaviour that will raise flags includes encouraging or promoting violence; hatred or extremism; serious mental ill-health issues including attempted suicide; having had various offences under the Wildlife Act or Wild Animal Control Act; being assessed as a risk to national security; having a temporary Protection Order; being involved in drug abuse; or being convicted of certain crimes.
- What new obligations are on licence holders to regularly update their details?
A licence holder will be obliged to inform Police if circumstances arise where they may no longer meet the fit and proper requirements, such as changes to their mental health.
- How will shooting clubs and ranges be brought into the system for the first time?
No shooting or gun clubs currently have firearms licensing requirements or Police oversight. Pistol clubs operate under written agreements with Police but these are not backed by law.
Shooting clubs and shooting ranges will be brought into the system in several ways. There will be requirements for shooting clubs to have a certificate of approval and for shooting ranges to be certified. Shooting clubs must have rules for the safe operation of firearms and shooting ranges must meet safety standards.
It is intended that the licensing system can be adjusted to accommodate clubs and ranges of varying sizes.
It may take some time for the details of the licensing system to be developed, and consulted on and for clubs to prepare themselves and their ranges to meet the new obligations. In recognition of this, the shooting club and ranges licensing system is intended to come into being within two years of the enactment of the Act.
- What are the changes around mental and physical health?
Health practitioners will have a new responsibility to consider notifying Police if they believe a licence holder should not use a firearm due to their physical or mental health.
A notification of this kind does not mean the person will automatically lose their licence. Instead it enables Police to ask for more information to assess the level of risk to the individual and the public.
Where Police receive a notification of concern but the medical practitioner does not consider the risk is imminent, Police would likely engage with the licence holder and immediate family, and work with them to determine the best course of action.
Where Police receive a notification that suggests a licence holder’s mental or physical ill-health poses an immediate risk to themselves or the public, Police could initiate an immediate suspension of their licence and secure their firearms and ammunition.
Our aim is to keep people safe. That means we need to ensure Police have the tools they need to protect people in our communities.
- Who will be on the new advisory group for Police?
A new advisory group of up to nine people will be appointed to make recommendations and advise the Commissioner of Police on matters that contribute to achieving the objective of the Act.
It will include people from within and outside the firearms community.
It could provide advice on any matter relating to firearms in New Zealand and must produce a report every year.
- What is the thinking behind the new Purpose Statement in the legislation?
A purpose statement is helpful in legislation as it provides a clear set of expectations for those affected by the Act and is a tool for the Courts when interpreting the Act.
The law will confirm that owning a firearm is a privilege.
In order for a person to be given that privilege, they must take responsibility to protect and promote personal and public safety.
- What about new penalties and offences?
A number of existing offences have had their penalties increased to ensure the sanctions regime is commensurate with the seriousness of the offence and therefore effective.
An example of this is increasing the maximum penalty for possessing a firearm without a licence from the current $1,000 and/or 3 months imprisonment to a maximum penalty of $15,000 or 1 year imprisonment.
Some new offences and penalties have also been introduced, such as a new offence for providing information to the registry known to be false or misleading, with a maximum penalty of $20,000 or 2 years imprisonment.
- Are there any other changes in store?
- Some fees in the system may change to better reflect the cost of administering the firearms system. However proposals are not yet formed and this requires substantial further consultation. A public discussion document will be issued in 2020 with options around the type of activity where Police may charge a fee and how to set that fee.
- It currently costs Police more than $13 million a year to administer the firearms licensing system, yet they receive only $4 million in fees. A 10-year firearms licence costs $126.50.
- The government has asked Police to do more work to design a system of firearms prohibition orders to restrict access to firearms by serious violent offenders. Cabinet will discuss options later this year and the public will be asked for feedback on the potential shape of such a regime.
- There are currently no controls on the advertising of firearms or ammunition. These will be established through regulations which will follow the final passage of the legislation.
- In order to ensure firearms laws remains fit for purpose a wholesale review of the entire Arms Act will be undertaken five years after the latest changes are passed. It is expected this could take 18 months to complete. It will result in a formal report to Parliament with recommendations.