Gun policy expert likens Kiwi gun laws to United States

Close-up of a hunter loading his rifle.
Photo credit: File

A gun control advocate says New Zealand's failure to register firearms places our gun laws "almost alone with the United States". director Philip Alpers believes the number of seizures by police means nothing when there's still no idea of how many firearms are in the country.

However Council of Licensed Firearms Owners spokesperson Nicole McKee says creating a firearms registry would be far too expensive.

“Police abandoned firearm registration in 1983 because it was deemed to not be that effective,” she says.

“It was very expensive for little result. Criminals do not have firearms licences; they are not going to register their firearms.

Figures released under the Official Information Act show police have seized close to 6000 guns since 2012.

More than 1200 firearms were recovered last year alone.

Mr Alpers says the seizures are probably just a drop in the bucket.

"There's very little accountability for careless or bent gun owners who allow their guns to get loose, police don't maintain a register," he says.

"A completely unrecorded gun sale in a hotel car park is still perfectly legal."

Private gun sales are allowed in New Zealand, provided both parties have firearms licenses. The seller must sight the buyer's license before the sale takes place.

Mr Alpers is adamant the establishment of a gun register is the only way to tackle gun-related crime.

"The latest figures show there were 0.11 gun related murders per 100,000 New Zealanders in 2014," he says. 

The number of gun-related murders per 100,000 New Zealanders ranged between 0.1 and 0.3 in the period from 1996-2014. 

New Zealand Police figures also indicate that the total number of gun-related offences has actually declined since 2014. 

It's now 21 years since Sir Thomas Thorp's 1997 Review of Firearms Control in New Zealand recommended all firearms be registered.

"In comparison to almost every other industrialised nation, New Zealand's gun laws are still permissive," Mr Alpers says.

"New Zealand's failure to register almost 96 percent of its guns still ranks you almost alone with the United States."

Ms McKee says we need to be looking at security of firearms rather than registration. 

“We just need to look at how we can tighten it a bit more, but still make it achievable.

“We’re working with police to look at what is current, what can be improved on and what will work for New Zealand.”

However, Philip Alpers says that won’t do anything to shed light on the figures of illegal guns.

“It makes it impossible to judge any of this improvement if you don’t have a register and if you don’t know how many guns you’ve got in the country, you can’t possibly gauge the scope of the problem.”

Police figures show 830 guns were stolen from licensed firearms holders last year.

That's up on each of the previous four years, but Mr Alpers believes it's unlikely to represent the true figures.

"It makes it impossible to judge any of this improvement if you don't have a register and if you don't know how many guns you've got in the country, you can't possibly gauge the scope of the problem."