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Q+A: Updating our gun control laws

This week, proposals for further changes to our gun control laws were introduced into Parliament. Some of these proposals include changing the firearms licence validity from 10 years to five years, creating a licensing regime for shooting clubs and ranges, tightening the fit-and-proper person criteria, and allowing better cost recovery so the system is less reliant on taxpayer subsidies. A firearms register will help Police to know how many firearms there are, who has them, and how secure they are. New offences and penalties will make sure people know we’re taking gun-related crime seriously.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.