MPs petitioned over allowing competitive shooters to use semi-automatic firearms

Semi-automatic firearms such as these AR15 rifles were banned in New Zealand after the Christchurch terror attacks in 2019 (file picture).
Semi-automatic firearms such as these AR15 rifles were banned in New Zealand after the Christchurch terror attacks in 2019 (file picture). Photo credit: New Zealand Police

By Anneke Smith for RNZ

MPs have heard arguments both for and against allowing competitive shooters to use outlawed semi-automatic firearms.

The weapons were banned in a sweeping gun crackdown implemented six days after the 15 March terror attacks in 2019.

Five years on, politicians have now heard a petition asking lawmakers to allow competitive shooters to own these weapons again.

Petitioner Niru Wijesundara said New Zealanders had been competing on an unequal footing since the gun crackdown. 

"They would never consider doing those horrendous acts because they're quite passionate about the sport and they would ensure the future generations would continue to have access to these weapons for strictly sport competition purposes."

Wairarapa man Phil Dunlop from Pistol New Zealand spoke about the cost and difficulty of shipping and using equipment he cannot practise with in his own country.

"I was invited to compete in a mini rifle match by the British team... and again we're restricted to 10 round magazines here where there's no restriction in the UK.

"I can buy magazines over there but my point is this is sort of a little draconian where countries with a reputation for strict gun control like the UK have more liberal laws than us." 

The police opposed the petition - arguing it would introduce unacceptable risk.

Superintendent Richard Wilson said the proposed law change could give criminals, gangs and terrorists access to high-powered guns by either stealing them off unsuspecting licence holders or getting them from the "very few" corrupt licence holders.

"These would carry a really high street value and black market value, should they be able to make it that way. Internationally, there is a direct correlation between mass shootings and these types of firearms being available in ready circulation."

The police pointed out tragic cases involving high powered guns were not limited to 15 March. 

In 2017, Northland man Quinn Patterson murdered his property manager and her daughter with a semi-automatic gun, illegally supplied by a licensed firearm owner.

In 2020, constable Matthew Hunt was murdered with a semi-automatic weapon during a routine traffic stop in West Auckland.

Federation of Islamic Association president Abdur Razzaq said it was not worth the risk and there was no evidence New Zealand was performing worse in international events as a result of tougher gun laws.

"The risk just does not outweigh the gains and the gains are for one or two individuals. These are not national events." 

The Council of Licensed Firearms Owners was not behind the petition but said the organisation does support it.

Council chair Michael Dowling argued the risk could be managed - as was currently being done with existing firearm holders.

Asked by Labour's Deborah Russell why anyone would want to shoot the likes of an AR15 - Dowling said the reasons vary.

"It could be nostalgia, it could be that they used that in services, in police or in Defence, and they want to continue with the training and the programmes they used to have for shooting competitively. 

"For me, I'm interested in the history and the mechanisms."

MPs will now write a report which the Minister in Charge of Firearms - ACT's Nicole McKee - said she was looking forward to receiving.

It is likely the petition's proposed law changes would also be considered when the coalition government rewrites the Arms Act.