President's Column: Waking up New Zealand to illegal firearms

NZPA - Chris Cahill | Sat July 1st, 2017

I spent most of June at Association committee AGMs throughout the country, hearing from members about the pressures of life at the coalface and answering questions about what we can do to improve your working conditions.

During this month-long process we took a bit of a hit from our own Police Minister, who rejected all the meaningful recommendations from the Law and Order Select Committee inquiry into the possession of illegal firearms. Gang members and prospects will be barred from owning weapons, but that’s about as good as it gets.

As you know, the Association has no interest in making life difficult for lawful firearms owners. While some have had a crack at me over the Association’s stance, there was nothing in the select committee recommendations that made owning a gun more taxing than ensuring a level of security that the majority of New Zealanders would expect.

My focus is to wake up New Zealand to the fact that there are tens of thousands of illegal firearms in our communities and most of them are stolen from licensed individuals or dealers’ premises.

In mid-June we had a report of a burglary of an outdoor sporting store during which the door to the firearms storage unit was jemmied open and seven Beretta shotguns were taken. An arrest was made, but all indications are that the “job” was too easy.

Even Police doesn’t know how many illegal firearms there are, and its records have been found to be seriously lacking. What we do know is that there are certainly more illegal firearms out there than the “best guess” still being referenced from the now 20-year-old Thorp Report. In 1997, Justice Thorp estimated there were between 10,000 and 25,000 illegally held firearms in New Zealand. He acknowledged then that the number was “substantial”, “potentially higher” and refreshed by purchases, theft, burglary and illegal imports.

Twenty years on, we also know that a firearm directed at a member of the public or a police officer is becoming routine. The Association, as the trusted guardian of its members’ welfare, will continue to make a lot of noise about this because we know we are on the right track and we want to do everything we can to avert a tragedy.

When a member of the public or an officer is shot, there is no satisfaction in saying, “I told you so”.

Police believes there are more than 1.2 million legal firearms (excluding airguns) in this country and 242,000 licensed gun owners. Last year, 4221 licences expired – up 589 on the preceding year – but Police says it has “no capability to provide data on the number of firearms seized due to firearms licence expiry”. These “grey weapons” are a serious concern.

So, too, are the almost daily reports from our members recording the likes of sawn-off shotguns, revolvers, rifles, snub-nosed pistols, double-barrel shotguns, pump-action shotguns, modified starter pistols and ammunition found in the course of everyday policing. Keep telling us what you find, and we will keep fighting for the safety of New Zealanders and the police officers who come between them and armed criminals.

Back to listing