THE EVIDENCE ON GUN LAWS
Tighter firearms laws decrease the risks (and costs) of firearms deaths and injuries, particularly from mass shootings. The evidence from 130 studies in 10 countries suggests that the implementation of laws restricting firearms (as we are now proposing in New Zealand) is associated with reductions in firearm deaths. In Australia, there were 13 fatal mass shootings from 1979-1996. After the gun law reforms in 1996 there were none until 2018. Researchers estimate that 16 mass shootings have been prevented in Australia by their law changes.
Gun Control NZ’s demands are based on the Australian law reforms. We have followed the Australian National Firearms Agreement, rather than focus on implementation in any one state.
Haven’t we already solved the problem with the law changes in April to ban semi-automatic weapons?
We strongly support the ban on semi-automatics which went through Parliament in April but our ban is weaker than the Australian legislation following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in which 35 people died. The New Zealand legislation was passed very quickly and couldn’t cover everything. We need a gun register and a shortened license period, and we think some of the exemptions are too broad. We want Parliament to address these issues in the second round of legislation, which is coming later this year.
do you support any private gun ownership?
Yes. Guns are necessary for pest control. We also support hunting and some shooting sports. Gun ownership is a privilege and not a right in New Zealand. Many gun owners are willing to give up a small part of their enjoyment of their sport to make everyone safer.
Who are the gun lobby?
The gun lobby are a small, highly-organised, minority of gun owners, including organisations such as the Council of Licensed Firearm Owners. They have successfully opposed any but the most minor changes to gun laws for decades. There may or may not be direct links between the New Zealand gun lobby and the American NRA (National Rifle Association). But the gun lobby has used NRA rhetoric and strategies. For example, many members of the New Zealand gun lobby have incorrectly claimed that they have a right to own firearms.
Isn’t this just a knee jerk reaction to what happened in Christchurch?
It has often taken a tragedy to force change in a failing regulatory system. The 9/11 terror attacks led to changes in airport security around the world and the Pike River tragedy led to changes in health and safety laws. The weakness of our gun laws has been known about by policy makers for more than 25 years, even though the gun lobby claimed we had the best gun laws in the world. Our positions are based on the in depth inquiry into New Zealand’s gun laws by Justice Thorp in 1997 and the 2017 report into illegal firearms by Parliament’s Law and Order Select Committee .
Putting the Christchurch attack aside, gun death rates have been going down. Why do we need to change anything?
Worldwide, there has been an increase in terror attacks, extremism (including white supremacy), and online radicalisation. The Christchurch attack highlighted the risks of these emerging issues. The number of guns in New Zealand is high and has been increasing. We have a very high level of family violence. We might be on the path to a more violent society and if so, we want to help ensure there is a change of direction.
WhAT HAPPENS IF THERE IS NO MORE CHANGE TO THE FIREARMS ACT?
New Zealanders are much more aware now of the dangers of firearms. People are less likely to feel safe where there is lax control of firearms. The potential long term outcome is a society that lives in fear, where people distrust those they don’t know, those who are different and, even possibly those in their own homes.
Current gun laws
The Arms Act 1983 governs possession of guns in New Zealand.
Gun owners have to be licensed, just like car drivers. Police are responsible for the vetting of applicants and the issuing of licences to those who are “fit and proper”. A licence is valid for 10 years.
If supervised by a licensed gun owner, a person without a licence, including a child, can use any firearm or airgun, except those subject to specific restrictions.
There are very few limits on the sale and purchase of ammunition.
Pistols are tightly regulated in New Zealand. They can only be owned by active members of a pistol shooting club. There is a register of all pistols in New Zealand.
From 12 April 2019, most semi-automatic weapons have been banned. There are some broad exemptions, including pest control and collectors. Anyone with a firearms licence can still buy the following semi-automatic weapons:
rimfire rifles of .22 calibre that hold 10 rounds or less
semi-automatic shotguns that hold 5 rounds or less
pump action shotguns that hold 5 rounds or less.
Guns can be sold privately in New Zealand (with no record of the sale). There are no limits on how many guns any licensed person can own. Unlike most developed countries, there is no general gun register and so we only have very rough estimates of how many guns there are.
This is a very simplified view of the law and shouldn’t be relied on as legal advice. For a more comprehensive overview, see https://www.police.govt.nz/advice/firearms-and-safety
changes to gun laws
This timeline reveals how long politicians from both major parties have known about the risks of mass shootings. Yet, they have done almost nothing to prevent them. Instead, they have repeatedly caved to the passionate and well-organised gun lobby.
1983 New Arms Act passed. The Act abandoned the previous system of registration of firearms and introduced licensing of gun owners. Licences were valid for a lifetime.
1990 Thirteen people shot and killed in the Aramoana massacre. The perpetrator was licensed and had bought his guns legally.
1992 The Arms Act is amended to require extra vetting for owners of “Military-Style Semi-Automatics” (MSSAs). The definition of MSSA was based largely on cosmetic features that could easily be changed with after-market accessories.
The amendments also required secure storage of guns, which has helped save lives. They also reduced the licence period from life to 10 years. These law changes were fiercely opposed by the gun lobby because they said that they would put a burden on gun owners.
1996 The Port Arthur massacre occurs in Australia, leading to the deaths of 35 people and 23 people wounded, many seriously. The Australian federal government immediately got all the state governments to agree comprehensive gun reform measures. These included registration of all weapons, a ban on all types of semi-automatic weapons and a buy back of all semi-automatics. New Zealand government representatives attended the Australian government meetings but refused to sign up to the agreement.
1997 Justice Thorp completes an inquiry in to gun laws in New Zealand. He recommends a ban on semi-automatic weapons. His other recommendations include reducing the licence period to 3-5 years, limiting the number of guns an individual can own, and that all restricted weapons be permanently disabled. These and other recommendations are largely ignored.
1999 A private member’s bill to implement the Thorp report recommendations does not even get sent to a Select Committee for consideration. The government does introduce the Arms Amendment Bill No 2 to put in place gun registration.
2000 Gun Safe, a gun control lobby group, is wound up after repeated harassment of its leaders.
2004 The Arms Amendment Bill No 2 fails due to pressure from the gun lobby.
2005 Arms Amendment Bill No 3 introduced. This Bill would have ensured compliance with a United Nations convention on manufacturing and trafficking illegal firearms. It did not include registration or any other measures to implement the Thorp report recommendations.
2012 Arms Amendment Bill No 3 fails, again because of the gun lobby.
2012 Arms (Military Style Semiautomatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Act passed. Tinkered with the definition of MSSA after some high profile and successful challenges to the law by gun dealers.
2017 Release of the bi-partisan report of the Select Committee Inquiry into issues relating to the illegal possession of firearms in New Zealand. Like Thorp, the committee members recommended registration of guns and more restrictions on semi-automatic weapons. Despite the Select Committee having a majority of government MPs, the then Minister of Police rejected most of the recommendations.
15 March 2019 A licensed firearms owner, using legally purchased weapons and accessories, killed 51 people and injured 49 others in Christchurch.
12 April 2019 Parliament enacts a ban on most semi-automatic weapons and a buy-back scheme. The gun lobby complained about the speed of the process and the burden on licensed firearms owners. Unlike Australia, the ban does not cover some semi-automatic weapons. There are numerous exemptions and collectors do not have to disable newly prohibited weapons.
facts about guns in NZ
In New Zealand, 248,764 licensed shooters own an estimated 1.2-1.7 million guns. We don’t know exactly how many guns there are in New Zealand because they are not registered. There are about 1.8 million households in New Zealand. About 17% of households have at least one gun in them.
We own about 6.5 times as many guns per capita as residents of the UK and 2.5 times as many as Australians. Americans own about 3.5 times more gun per capita than we do. An extra 52,000 guns were imported in to New Zealand last year.
On average, one person dies by gunshot every 7 days. Of these, 80% are suicides, 13% percent are homicides, 5% are accidents, and in the remainder the cause is undetermined. Ready access to firearms is a significant factor for suicide. One in five homicides is caused by a gun. Of all gun homicides from 2004-2019, 64% of victims were shot with a .22 calibre rifle or a shotgun.
From 2000-2017, there were 2,181 hospitalisations for firearms injuries, an average of 121 per year. The average annual cost of firearms injury hospitalisations was $961,707.
The total costs of firearms deaths per year in 2000-2015 were estimated at $304 million per year ($4.86 billion over the 16 years).
The firearms licensing system cost New Zealand Police $12 million in 2016-17. Applicants’ fees only cover about 45 per cent of the costs of the firearms administration system, the rest is paid for by taxpayers. The taxpayer funding comes from a broader allocation for community policing. This means that the firearms regulation is traded off by Police against other community policing priorities.
More information about guns in New Zealand is available in a downloadable factsheet, which is fully referenced.
PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR CHANGE
There is strong support for changes to firearms law in New Zealand. A recent 1 News/Colmar Brunton poll on the then Arms Amendment Bill showed that:
61% thought the changes were about right
19% thought the changes didn’t go far enough
14% thought it went too far
5% didn’t know
2% refused to answer