Politics | Crime

Is New Zealand better off with a gun register or without?

“We are only five or six weeks in, and it’s going great guns,” says Te Tari Pūreke (Firearms Safety Authority) operations director Superintendent Richard Wilson, of New Zealand’s firearms register that kicked off on June 24 this year.

But for others, it’s not worth the paperwork. ACT spokesperson for firearms Nicole McKee says spending $218 million on a register is “just like burning taxpayer money,” and Council of Licenced Firearm Owners (COLFO) spokesperson Hugh Devereux-Mack says it does not prevent any form of gun crime.

“It is an administrative system that comes into play only after a crime has been committed,” he says.

New Zealanders in favour

A recent survey result released by Gun Control NZ showed a majority of New Zealanders supported the gun registry. The research, conducted by Horizon poll showed 71% of New Zealanders were in favour of the register, with 14% opposed. Close to two-thirds of those polled also believed a political party supporting the gun registry had stronger law and order policies.

“We also found there was support across all major parties,” Gun Control NZ co-founder Nik Green says. Breaking down the sample by how people intended to vote, support for the register ranged from 92% among Green voters and 76% among Te Pāti Māori voters, to 53% among people who intended to vote for ACT, which has said it will repeal the firearms register.

Having a register is useful in the fight against crime, Green says. “If a single gun goes missing, the police know who is responsible. Repealing the registry means police have no idea how many guns are out there, who has them or who is responsible for their use,” he says.

Wilson says Aotearoa’s registry follows similar practices in other countries. “In Canada, when they took the gun register away, they found the thefts went up. And when Australia brought the reforms around the register, gun deaths and homicide went down,” he says.

Guns and gangs

Gun Control New Zealand says a major concern is “straw purchasing”- people obtaining guns from licensed firearms holders. “We know from the police that gangs get most of their guns from two sources - one is licensed firearm owners not keeping their guns safe and having them stolen. The second is a group of firearm owners selling directly to gangs,” Green says.

Wilson says police have laid charges against firearms license holders legitimately purchasing large amounts of firearms and selling them. “The registry helps us to tighten that up,” he says.

But Devereux-Mack says the firearms registry only serves as a shopping list for criminals. “They know which houses are the best to rob and how many firearms they will get as a reward,” he says. While Wilson says that Te Tāri Pūreke has heard that concern, he also says it has a “really good security system in place that meets, and even exceeds government security standards,” and that everyone’s information is kept safe.

Responsible ownership

It is important to note that people have firearms for a range of reasons, Wilson says. “We want to ensure we have got really good education for communities out there to be able to use firearms for legitimate purposes,” he says.

“A key part of this is to get people to join us and having a firearms license is very important,” he says.

ACT is unconvinced. “There are bigger problems that haven’t been addressed yet, such as the illegal importation of firearms and the illegal manufacturing of firearms right here in New Zealand,” McKee says. ACT has doubled down on its commitment to repeal the gun register if it is a part of the next government.