Gun lobbyists question need for Firearms Registry after official data on seizures emerges

Figures have emerged showing a fraction of firearms seized by police are legally imported or manufactured in New Zealand.

Gun lobbyists say it's evidence that most illegal guns are smuggled in, and are once again calling into question the need for a Firearms Registry.

But police say the previous data was limited.

Police recently seized several firearms from a licensed dealer in Auckland, who last week was charged with the unlawful selling of firearms and ammunition.

"The dealer has allegedly knowingly sold firearms to individuals who are not lawfully able to possess them," said Firearms Safety Authority director of operations, Supt Richard Wilson.

The diverting of firearms to criminals and gangs is a problem police have long talked about.

"Our biggest concern is firearms stolen out of the lawful fleet," said Police Commissioner Andrew Coster in 2021, after nearly 1000 guns were seized over the first six months of Operation Tauwhiro.

But Hugh Devereux-Mack from the Council of Licenced Firearms Owners (COLFO) says the lawful fleet of guns isn't the problem.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, he said: "Police have previously claimed that licensed firearms owners were the main source of firearms for criminals. This is wrong."

The lobby group he represents has obtained data under the Official Information Act (OIA), first reported by The Daily Examiner, showing of the more than 6500 firearms seized by police in the past three years, only 123 were legally imported or manufactured in New Zealand. That's less than 2 percent.

"Criminals in New Zealand are smuggling their firearms in and are filing off serial numbers," Devereux-Mack said.

"Labour's $208 million registration system is being defeated by a $5 drill-bit from Bunnings."

Gun control advocate Nik Green of Gun Control NZ disagreed.

"I would say this doesn't tell you anything about the importance of the registry," he told Newshub. 

"All it really shows you is that we've done a pretty poor job of monitoring guns in the past."

Police told Newshub on Saturday the data obtained under the Official Information Act is limited, because there has never been a mandatory requirement on frontline staff to keep a record of legal firearms. That was until the Firearms Registry was launched in June last year. So far, about 100,000 guns have been registered.

"The registry is not about identifying seized firearms, it is about making the availability of firearms to the black market more difficult for criminals and gangs," Supt Wilson told Newshub.

"COLFO's conclusion supports the need for the Firearms Registry as it rightly identifies the gaps and failings in the firearms legislation prior to the registry being in place."

But the new Associate Justice Minister in charge of firearms, ACT MP Nicole McKee, is going full speed ahead with a review of the Firearms Registry before June. 

"This data shows that there is another story there and this is why it's so important that we do have a review of the Firearms Registry and I'm sure that the OIA that's in question here will be part of that review," McKee told Newshub.

Because McKee is a former gun lobbyist, gun control advocates are skeptical about the review being balanced. 

"I have not a lot of confidence this is going to be fair," Green said. 

Gun control advocates fear they could be looking down the barrel at the final days of the Firearms Registy.