Revealed: How many firearms were stolen in New Zealand last year - and how many were found

A pile of firearms.
Police only found a fraction of those missing. Photo credit: Getty / File

Nearly 700 firearms were reported stolen from licensed gun owners last year, data released to Newshub under the Official Information Act shows.

But despite more than 1500 firearms being seized by police in raids, only a fraction of recovered guns had been reported stolen.

The vast majority were rifles - 436 in total - followed by shotguns, at 186. Three military-style semi-automatic (MSSA) rifles and three pistols were also reported stolen from people with valid firearms licences.

Graphic showing the number of firearms stolen from licenced gun owners in 2018.  Requiring a firearms licence: 436 rifles, 186 shotguns, 3 pistols, 3 MSSAs. Not requiring a licence if over 18: 53 airguns, 2 antique firearms, 7 imitation/replica firearms.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Both MSSA rifles and pistols are strictly licensed, requiring a B and E licence endorsement respectively. None were reported stolen by licensed dealers, who have an F endorsement.

The classification for a MSSA rifle was tightened in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack, with relevant firearms also being banned entirely.

According to the information sent to Newshub by New Zealand police, even firearms that don't require a licence were nabbed.

Of the 93 airguns reported stolen, 91 were taken from licensed firearms dealers. Thirteen paintball guns, nine imitation/replica firearms and four antiques were also reported stolen from dealers.

None of those require a firearms licence to possess, as long as you're over 18.

Graphic showing the number of stolen firearms recovered by police in 2018. 5 airguns, 1 MSSA, 3 pistols, 33 rifles and 31 shotguns.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Hundreds of firearms found in raids but only dozens returned

And it's not easy to track those guns down again.

Last year, just 73 firearms that were reported stolen were found by police. Officials were unable to confirm to Newshub how many were returned to the owners, as opposed to surrendered or destroyed.

One of the guns recovered had been missing since 2002.

The lack of success isn't for the lack of trying. A total of 1598 firearms were seized in raids last year, including nearly 750 rifles and 429 shotguns.

When it comes to the more restricted firearms, 118 handguns were seized while 40 MSSA rifles were also recovered.

Graphic showing the number of firearms seized by police in 2018. 219 airguns, 44 imitation firearms, 118 pistols, 40 MSSAs, 748 rifles, 429 shotguns.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Questions raised over firearm security

Legal firearm owners are already subject to security requirements when storing their guns, but there are suggestions that could go further.

According to the New Zealand Police's secure storage guidelines, firearms must be secured in a lockable cabinet, strongroom or display cabinet or rack. The guns need to be immobilised and locked so they can't fire.

Restrictions are even tighter under the B and E licence endorsements for MSSAs and pistols.

"Police approval of an individual's security arrangements is decided on a case-by-case basis following inspection," it says in the document.

With the majority of firearms reported stolen only requiring an A category licence, Police Association president Chris Cahill told Newshub there may be an argument for tightening the security rules.

"There need to be security arrangements that are in line for the number and type of firearms a person has," he said.

Someone with a category A licence could store far more guns than is suitable for a specific safe, causing a security risk, Cahill said. It's something he said category E licence holders - who face stricter security regulations - had brought up with him.

"[A potential rule change] definitely needs to be discussed with the firearms community - once you hit a certain number of firearms, whether your security need to change accordingly."

'Sounds like common sense': Does New Zealand need a national firearms registry?

While firearms purchased on an E category licence are currently registered by police, at present there isn't a single national registry matching all legally purchased firearms to their licenced owners.

Only 73 stolen firearms were returned by police last year, something Cahill said a national registry would help.

"Without a registry, we don't actually know who has what firearms and if they recorded their serial numbers. Actually trying to identify them when they've been recovered can be problematic."

He acknowledged a number of the stolen firearms would have their serial numbers removed.

"Even if you had a better description of the firearms, that would be able to be matched with the records of what was stolen."

Pointing to the firearm that had been missing for almost 16 years before being recovered, Cahill said stolen guns can stay in circulation for "dozens of years".

"These firearms don't break very often."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Police Minister Stuart Nash.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has previously backed a national registry. Photo credit: Getty

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has previously indicated she would support a national registry.

"On the face of it, it absolutely makes sense," she told media after the Christchurch terror attack in March.

She said she was "leaning quite heavily" on police for advice around the matter, adding it "sounds like common sense to probably most of us".